Race, Mental Illness, and the Death Penalty

Tommy Munford hired Guy Tobias LeGrande to kill Munford's wife. A friend of Munford's knew of the plan and supplied the murder weapon. After the deed was done, prosecutors made a deal with Munford: he could avoid life without parole by testifying against Munford in a death penalty prosecution. Munford's friend who supplied the weapon wasn't even charged.

Munford and his friend are white. LeGrande is black. He's also mentally ill. He insisted on representing himself at trial, and he did so while wearing a Superman T-shirt. Despite his mental illness, North Carolina plans to execute him on December 1.

During the crucial penalty phase of the trial, LeGrande's incoherent ramblings reached a pinnacle when he goaded the all-white jury to "Pull the damn switch and shake that groove thing." The jury sentenced him to death after only 45 minutes of deliberation.

Julian Bond writes that he's "convinced that LeGrande was condemned to death in part because his all-white jury could not muster any empathy for this mentally ill black man who had killed a white woman in their community." LeGrande's race is likely the reason that prosecutors want him to die while sparing the equally culpable white man who orchestrated the murder.

LeGrande was prosecuted by a district attorney's office with a sordid history of race discrimination. The prosecutor gained notoriety for wearing in court a gold lapel pin shaped like a noose. In an effort to "boost morale," the prosecutor awarded nooses to assistant district attorneys who won death penalty cases. In LeGrande's case, the prosecutor used a rope metaphor throughout his opening statement, obviously referring to a noose. The prosecutor selected an all-white jury.

And what kind of judge allows a defendant of any race to represent himself during a trial (much less in a death penalty trial) when the defendant is so obviously incapable of acting as his own lawyer? Did LeGrande's race influence the judge, as well as the prosecutors and jury?

If you live in North Carolina, contact Mike Easley and let him hear your opposition to race-tainted prosecutions, and to executions of the mentally ill.

Gov. Mike Easley has a tremendous opportunity to address an obvious injustice. He can right this wrong by commuting LeGrande's sentence to life in prison.
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    This was a pure farce (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by aw on Fri Nov 24, 2006 at 10:12:00 AM EST
    of a trial.

    As the trial progressed, LeGrande became increasingly agitated. The judge suggested LeGrande try to calm himself.

    The judge himself seems incompetent.

    Just more of man's inhumanity towards... (none / 0) (#2)
    by Bill Arnett on Fri Nov 24, 2006 at 11:46:02 AM EST
    ...man that results from the cheapening of life in general.

    To allow a mentally incompetent person to defend himself in a death penalty case, apparently without a court appointed adviser to assist him, is unjust on its face and I hope the governor will commute the sentence or that an attorney of conscience will file an appeal and seek reversal of the verdict for allowing the trial to go forward without competent counsel representing LeGrande.

    I suppose as we become ever more war-like and indiscriminately kill hundreds of thousands of people who never harmed us, while we plan still more unjust wars to kill many hundreds of thousands more innocent people, life in America is considered so cheap that it seems just to execute people incapable of defending themselves.

    The people of North Carolina have nothing to feel pride over in this case.

    But didn't the Supreme Court cause a real ruckus awhile back by prohibiting execution of the mentally ill?

    'Mornin, aw.

    Somebody tell W (none / 0) (#3)
    by aw on Fri Nov 24, 2006 at 12:13:58 PM EST
    We must work for a welcoming and compassionate society, a society where no American is dismissed, and no American is forgotten. This is the great and hopeful story of our country, and we can write another chapter. We must give all Americans who suffer from mental illness the treatment, and the respect, they deserve.
    - George W. Bush Link

    Good afternoon (at least it is in my neck of the woods), Bill.


    If Bush knows (none / 0) (#4)
    by Edger on Fri Nov 24, 2006 at 12:29:29 PM EST
    that he's lying when he says things like that he is knowingly and purposely deceiving and deserves impeachment. If he doesn't know he's lying then he deserves what he advocates: treatment, to bring him to a point where he is fit to stand trial. By the house and senate.

    Every time bush speaks he further... (none / 0) (#5)
    by Bill Arnett on Fri Nov 24, 2006 at 12:39:16 PM EST
    ...proves himself to be a delusional pathological liar.

    The truth just isn't in the man.

    'Mornin to you as well, Edger (it's only 10:36 a.m. here in sunny California, aw.)


    Morning, Bill! (none / 0) (#6)
    by Edger on Fri Nov 24, 2006 at 12:42:38 PM EST