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Re: Racial Justice Act 

A solution in search of a problem

The Independent, discussing the Racial Justice Act ("District attorneys differ on Racial Justice Act," June 10), cited a 2001 study by UNC political scientist Isaac Unah purporting to show that murderers of non-whites are less likely to receive the death penalty than murderers of whites. This claim was first made in 1983 by attorneys for John Rook, a white man who brutally raped and murdered a white woman. Astonishingly, his attorneys argued that the death penalty was discriminatory because he would have been less likely to get the death penalty had he raped and murdered an African-American woman. This argument is now turned on its head, asserting discrimination against African-Americans because African-American life is undervalued. Since more than 90 percent of the murderers of African-Americans are African-American themselves, the apparent remedy would be to execute more African-American murderers.

Dr. Unah has refused to make his data public, despite an announcement at his news conference that critics were free to examine the data. He has been unsuccessfully attempting to publish his report in a scientific journal for eight years; it is invalid.

There has been no evidence of racial discrimination in the death penalty in North Carolina since 1984, with many more whites being executed than African-Americans. The Racial Justice Act is a solution in search of a problem. Statistical evidence of discrimination has always been admissible in court. Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline knows that "Statistics in Durham County were applied in the wrong way" because I told her so when I was her consultant; she certainly is not competent to make judgments about statistical evidence of discrimination in other counties. Contrary to what she says, it will be a travesty if the Racial Justice Act passes. It will not ensure racial justice but will simply delay justice while enriching attorneys and statistical consultants like me.

Elliot M. Cramer
Chapel Hill

  • "There has been no evidence of racial discrimination in the death penalty in North Carolina since 1984."

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