Thursday, December 30, 2010

The troubling case of Phillip Wilkinson, convicted murderer on Death Row in NC.

Offenders on Death Row:

Phillip Wilkinson, NC Death Row inmate.

There are currently 159 offenders on Death Row.
I don't know how many of them are guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted. Hopefully, all of them are. There is one murderer on Death Row here in NC though that I feel comfortable saying certainly is guilty. He confessed to the crimes, they were horrific, and I'm not about to say he should go free; however, it is entirely inappropriate and an abomination of the criminal justice system that he was sentenced to death. I say this not (only) because I oppose the death penalty on principle, but because the case of Phillip Wilkinson is illustrative of how even in dealing with the guilty, the State simply can't be trusted to apply the death penalty fairly and in accordance with its own rules.

Wilkinson's court appointed lawyer at his trial made a series of mistakes, so many it's hard to believe they were simply incompetence. At the sentencing hearing witness testimony of his remorse was not heard, a crucial factor in sentencing, nor did they hear Wilkinson (an honorably discharged veteran who was an indigent) had been diagnosed with mental illness, nor were they aware the prosecution had withheld material evidence regarding his level of intoxication at the time the crimes were committed. None of these things change the fact of his guilt. All are relevant to how the death penalty sentence was determined.

Wilkinson had a competent attorney during the appeals process, but the appellate court basically said, "screw it, none of that would have made a difference," when clearly it all could, and should, have. The Supreme Court declined to hear his case. [Source: Erwin Chemerinsky, The Conservative Assault on the Constitution (Simon & Schuster, 2010)]

Three other individuals were taken off Death Row this year, according to BlueNC, for similar prosecutorial misconduct and, in one case, a jury not being aware of all the information needed to determine appropriate sentencing. I don't know why Wilkinson is still on Death Row in light of these other cases. Nor do I know how many other convicts on Death Row in NC don't belong there.

Related: North Carolina Coalition for a Moratorium (NCCM)

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