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Death Watch 

Numbers include the execution of Michael Earl Sexton, if carried out on Friday.

Total Executions*

United States (38 states): 669

The South (14 states): 535

North Carolina: 16

*since 1977, when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to reapply death sentences

N.C. Governors' Records

Jim Hunt (1977-1985, 1993-2000)

Clemency granted: 1

Clemency denied: 14

Jim Martin (1985-1993)

Clemency granted: 1

Clemency denied: 2

Sexton's Crime

First degree murder and rape

Strongest Case for Clemency

A Legislative Study Commission in North Carolina is currently studying racial disparities in the death penalty, including the systematic exclusion of African-American jurors from capital cases. Since the state removed four out of the five blacks called for jury service, Sexton's case is directly relevant. The argument is being made that these exclusions prevented Sexton from being tried and sentenced by a jury of his peers, and that he should not be executed while the matter is under review. A number of legislators on the commission recently called on Gov. Hunt to grant a reprieve in this execution, and a subsequent one, until they could complete their investigation.

Method of Execution

Lethal injection of thiopental sodium and procuronium bromide (Pavulon), which induces sleep and then stops all muscle action, including breathing.

Time of Execution

Thursday, Nov. 9, 2 a.m.

Final Meal

Prisoners can choose a final meal, served about eight hours prior to the execution.


"Appropriately trained" volunteers work anonymously behind a curtain. Three inject syringes into IV tubes. Only one contains the lethal solution. The volunteers do not know which one.


Up to 16 people can serve as execution witnesses, including official witnesses chosen by the prosecutor and the sheriff of the region where the crime was committed, members of the victim's family, representatives of the convicted felon and media. The official witness list will be released on Nov. 6. Other witnesses have yet to be determined.


Sexton is survived by his mother Goldie O'Neal, a brother and a sister.

Cost to N.C. Taxpayers

About $3 million, based on figures from the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington and from a 1993 study of North Carolina cases by Duke University's Terry Sanford Institute for Public Policy, which estimated that murder cases ending in executions cost $2.1 million more than those resulting in sentences of life imprisonment.

Still on N.C. Death Row

Men: 209

Women: 6

African-American: 122

Native American: 9

White: 81

Other: 3

This feature runs every week the state plans to carry out an execution. Michael Earl Sexton is scheduled to die this Thursday at 2 a.m.

Michael Earl Sexton was born in Miami, Fla., in August 1966. He was the oldest child of migrant farm workers Charles Sexton and Goldie O'Neal. In 1971, the struggling couple relocated their family of five to the Raleigh area in search of work.

Tragedy came early for Sexton. At age 5, his father was killed in a car accident. This paved the way for the ongoing abuse Sexton and his siblings would suffer at the hands of his alcoholic mother. On one occasion, one of his mother's boyfriends beat him with an iron poker. Sexton tried to escape the beating by running into the kitchen where his mother was cooking, but accidentally knocked a pot of boiling water onto himself and was permanently scarred. On another occasion, the brother of his mother's boyfriend came to the house and sexually assaulted his 9-year-old sister, infecting her with syphilis.

Sexton's problems soon expanded. As an adolescent, he engaged in a number of criminal activities, including robbery and shoplifting. He also displayed violent tendencies at school and often fought with classmates.

In 1977, the Wake County Division of Social Services removed the children from their dysfunctional home. Sexton was separated from his siblings, who were placed in foster care. Since a foster home could not be located for Sexton, he was sent to Samarkand Manor, a training school for juveniles in Eagle Springs.

After more than a year at the school, Sexton returned to Wake County and was shuffled between foster homes and Central Orphanage in Oxford. In 1981, a social worker recommended he be admitted to Willie M., a state and federally funded rehabilitation program for youth who exhibit violent tendencies. Sexton was denied entry after it was determined he was "not violent enough."

Less than a decade later, Sexton was convicted of the August 1990 rape and murder of Kimberly Crews, a white social worker who worked at Wake Medical Center, where Sexton also worked. He was subsequently sentenced to death by a jury composed of 11 whites and one African American.

Although there appears to be little doubt about his guilt, Sexton's case was marred from the start. The lead prosecutor exercised four consecutive peremptory strikes to remove all but one of the African Americans called in for jury duty. Upon being challenged by the defense to justify his actions--trial attorneys can seek justification when peremptory challenges are used to remove people of a particular race from jury service--court records show the prosecutor stated that he removed one of the blacks because of "the way he dressed," and that the earring he wore signified he was "not mature." The man in question was married with two children and had lived at the same address for years.

Another potential black juror was removed because she had once witnessed an accident that resulted in a lawsuit, and therefore was deemed too "litigious." In addition, the fact that her husband worked at a hospital, according to the prosecutor, would allow the woman to "identify" with the defendant. The victim was also a hospital employee.

The prosecutor removed yet another black because the prospective juror's lack of eye contact was "was not forthcoming."

Sexton's defense team was suspect as well. His trial attorneys (who are different from his current attorneys) chose not to question potential jurors about any biases they might harbor in such a racially sensitive case. Though they had a constitutional right to do so, given that their client was a black man accused of raping and murdering a white woman, they decided not to. They also failed to inform Sexton of this decision, even though the defendant, by law, is supposed to be made aware of and consent to such decisions. In a subsequent hearing on the matter, the defense attorneys explained their actions by saying that their client was slow and wouldn't have understood the matter.

Sexton has had his share of troubles in prison as well. In 1993, his face was slashed in an altercation with another death row inmate. In 1997, he was isolated for days for disobeying a guard's order. According to his attorneys, Sexton was "singing too loudly."

Sexton's siblings often point out his considerable talent for singing, basketball and art. His attorneys say that he hasn't engaged in such activities in prison since being disciplined in 1997.

Sexton has declined all requests for media interviews, including a recent one from The Independent. According to his attorneys, the 34-year-old "is prepared to die, but is hopeful that he will be spared." EndBlock


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