In this first class, Prof. Bright sets out some of the issues that will be examined during the course and puts the death penalty in historical context. To illustrate some themes, we examine the case of Rickey Ray Rector, executed in Arkansas in 1992. Rector was a black man, who suffered from serious mental deficiencies at the time of his execution. Then-governor Bill Clinton denied his application for clemency. From race to mental illness to the political nature of the death penalty, Rector’s case contains many elements that will recur in the course. Next, Prof. Bright describes some of the history of race, the death penalty and the criminal courts, including slavery, lynching and the leasing of convicts after the abolition of slavery. Historian Gilbert King describes the case of the Groveland Boys, four young African American men charged with the rape of a white woman in Florida in 1949, who were defended by Thurgood Marshall and other lawyers from the NAACP. King describes the case based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, and illustrates it with photographs of the participants in the trial.
A discussion of the topics to be covered in the course including poverty, the right to a lawyer, racial discrimination, mental illness, intellectual disability, and the factors involved in how sentencing decisions are made.
General Information about the Death Penalty:
B. Rickey Ray Rector
Rickey Ray Rector was a black man sentenced to death in Arkansas, who suffered from serious mental deficiencies at the time of his execution. His execution date was set when then-governor Bill Clinton was running for President in 1992. His application for clemency was considered and denied shortly before the New Hampshire primary. His case illustrates issues of mental illness and how political and other considerations may influence decisions in capital cases.
The Case of Rickey Ray Rector (PDF), including:
- The Process of Imposing Death – quotations
- Illustrative Case: The case of Ricky Ray Rector
- Arkansas Statutes on Competency and Insanity, excerpts from State v. Rector decisions regarding mental competency for trial
- Marshall Frady “Death in Arkansas,” The New Yorker, February 22, 1993
- Clinton’s Record on Crime Issues as President
- Chart: Preliminary Pretrial Proceedings
- Chart: Stages of Review in a Criminal Case
A discussion of the history of the death penalty and racial oppression by the criminal courts, including slavery, lynching, the failure to protect freed African Americans after the Civil War, and the leasing of convicts that perpetuated slavery long after the Civil War.
History (PDF), including:
- Frederick Douglass, Resolutions Proposed for Anti-capital Punishment Meeting, October 7, 1858, Rochester, New York
- 38 Dakota Indians Executed in Largest Mass Execution
- Denial of Due Process and Equal Protection After the Civil War
- Extra-judicial Executions, States’ Rights, and “Federal Interference”
- Convict Leasing
- Chain Gangs
- Sexual Relations Between the Races
- The Scottsboro Case
- Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 32 (1932)
- Other Developments Between the 1930s and 1972
- Brown v. Mississippi, 297 U.S. 278 (1936)
- Note: Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227 (1940)
- Avery v. Alabama, 308 U.S. 444 (1940)
- Public Executions
- Controversial Capital Cases
– Douglas A. Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (Doubleday 2008) (and accompanying online PBS documentary)
– Dan Carter, Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South (LSU Press, revised ed., 2007)
– “Strange Fruit,” by Abel Meeropol (under the pen name Lewis Allan); immortalized in song by Billie Holiday.
– “Senate Issues Apology Over Failure On Lynching Law”
– “Joe Hill” Lyrics
D. Thurgood Marshall’s Defense of Death Penalty Cases
Author Gilbert King describes the case of four young African American men charged with the rape of a white woman in Florida in 1949, based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America. Thurgood Marshall and other lawyers from the NAACP assumed responsibility for the defense.
Thurgood Marshall (PDF), including:
– Thurgood Marshall’s Defense of Capital and Other Criminal Cases, including an excerpt from Gilbert King’s Devil in the Grove
– Gilbert King, Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America (Harper 2012)
– Devil in the Grove website
Guest Lecture by Gilbert King: