Murder most foul; justice denied
May I introduce you to some of the first-degree murderers who had their death sentences indefinitely postponed by Chief Justice Beasley and our state Supreme Court on June 5, 2020? All of these are from Randolph County:
Kenneth Bernard Rouse Date of Death Sentence: 03-23-1992
Rouse stabbed Hazel Broadway to death while she was working at a convenience store. He sexually assaulted Ms. Broadway while the knife was still in her neck. An Asheboro officer discovered Rouse with Ms. Broadway’s body in the back of the store. She was covered in her blood. Rouse was also convicted of armed robbery and first-degree rape.
NOTE: Rouse was suspected of murdering another older woman before Ms. Broadway. DNA testing many years later matched him to evidence left at the scene of that murder. Since he was on death row, Rouse has not been charged in that murder.
James Edward Williams Date of Death Sentence: 11-03-1993
Williams brutally beat and then strangled to death Elvie Marie Hamlin Rhodes. Ms. Rhodes’ body was found by hunters. She was murdered in her home. Large amounts of blood were located. The autopsy revealed that Ms. Rhodes was beaten severely on her upper body and died from a combination of blunt force trauma and strangulation. Williams’ fingerprints were found in Ms. Rhodes’ stolen car.
Jeffrey Clayton Kandies Date of Death Sentence: 4-24-1994
Kandies raped and beat to death Natalie Lynne Osborne, age 4. Kandies was the “boyfriend” of Natalie’s mother. A search for Natalie was conducted over several days. Her nude and beaten body was discovered in a plastic bag in the closet of her home. Kandies claimed he accidentally ran over her with his vehicle. The autopsy revealed that Natalie had been brutally beaten and raped. Kandies was also convicted of
Jason Wayne Hurst Date of Death Sentence: 03-17-2004
Hurst robbed and murdered Daniel Lee Branch. Branch was a hard-working family man, married with children. He was selling several firearms to raise money. Hurst contacted him and expressed interest in buying the firearms. Branch agreed to take Hurst to a remote field to prove that the firearms worked. As Branch walked into the field to set up a target, Hurst shot him with a shotgun.
John Scott Badgett Date of Death Sentence: 05-06-2004
Badgett robbed and murdered J.C. Chriscoe in the older man’s home. Badgett was homeless. Chriscoe had agreed to let him stay in his home temporarily. Badgett stabbed Mr. Chriscoe in the throat and followed him around the house as he bled to death, even knocking him down when he tried to call for help. Badgett claimed self-defense, alleging that Mr. Chriscoe became irate and was yelling at him. After murdering Chriscoe, Badgett came back to the house later, stealing and selling items from the house. Badgett had been convicted of manslaughter years before by stabbing that victim in the throat as well. Badgett had a violent history of stabbing and beating other persons while in custody.
Alexander Charles Polke Date of Death Sentence: 02-07-2005
Polke murdered Sheriff’s Deputy
George Thomas Wilkerson Date of Death Sentence: 12-20-2006
Wilkerson murdered Casey James Dinoff and Christopher Cameron Voncannon. Wilkerson was a violent drug dealer. He believed that one of the victims owed him a small amount of money for a drug sale. He obtained an SKS rifle that had been modified to fire fully automatic. He drove to the residence of the victims at night where he cut power lines to the house and burst in killing both victims. One was asleep on the couch. Wilkerson bragged about the murders, stating he felt like a Navy SEAL.
Gary Allen Trull Date of Death Sentence: 11-19-1996 (DECEASED)
Trull murdered Vanessa Dixon. Trull died while on death row. Trull had been convicted of a brutal first-degree rape and sentenced to life. He was paroled and settled in Randolph County in an apartment complex where Dixon also lived. Trull kidnapped Vanessa Dixon from her apartment. He raped her while she was tied to a tree. He murdered her by cutting her throat. Vanessa’s badly decomposed body was discovered by hikers many days after she went missing. The autopsy revealed she had been raped. DNA testing matched the semen to Gary Trull. He was also convicted of kidnapping and first-degree rape.
Could you tell which ones were black or white? I couldn’t. Five are white, one is black. Polke is listed in military records as white but now claims a small percentage as an American Indian to bolster his claim under the Racial Justice Act.
STATE v. RAMSEUR
On June 5, 2020 the North Carolina Supreme Court reinstated the Racial Justice Act for these first-degree murderers on death row in State v. Ramseur. Chief Justice Cheri Beasley presided. Justice Anita Earls wrote the opinion. There had not been an execution in North Carolina since 2006. Most of these first degree murderers were sentenced to death long before 2006.
Effectively, the decision of the state Supreme Court lengthened the moratorium on the death sentence by another 5-10 years.
How did this happen?
Public reporting on this decision has been wrong. On June 5 2020, WRAL published an article saying the Racial Justice Act “allowed death row inmates to seek to have their sentences commuted to life without parole if they could prove that racial bias may have tainted their trials.” Similar statements were made by NC Policy Watch and on NC Spin. These reports may have been induced to report it this way because the State Supreme Court opinion written by Associate Justice Anita Earls stated:
Here the right is to challenge a sentence of death on the grounds that it was obtained in a proceeding tainted by racial discrimination, and, if successful, to receive a sentence of life without parole. Repealing the Racial Justice Act took away that right
These characterizations of the Racial Justice Act are false. Long before the Racial Justice Act was passed in 2009 the law was:
a finding that race was the basis of the decision to seek or impose a death sentence may be established if the court finds that the State acted with discriminatory purpose in seeking the death penalty or in selecting the jury that sentenced the defendant, or one or more of the jurors acted with discriminatory purpose in the guilt-innocence or sentencing phases of the defendant’s trial.
But the Racial Justice Act provides that a remedy is available to white defendants who prove that discrimination occurred in other parts of the state in other decades to other defendants who were discriminated against. Can you believe it? As a result, 152 of the 156 murderers then on death row filed motions for relief under the Racial Justice Act.
Three days before the Ramseur decision was announced, Chief Justice Beasley said:
As the mother of twin sons who are young black men, I know that the calls for change absolutely must be heeded . . . And while we rely on our political leaders to institute those necessary changes, we must also acknowledge the distinct role that our courts play. As Chief Justice, it is my responsibility to take ownership of the way our courts administer
justice,and acknowledge that we must do better, we must be better.
Before the Act was passed in 2009, we predicted (accurately) that almost every person on death row, whether white,
If the trial is indeed tainted by racial discrimination the law should have granted the defendant a new trial. But it does not. It grants these murderers a sentence of life in prison. Why in the world would a person whose own trial was tainted by racial discrimination receive a life sentence instead of a new trial? The answer is that the discrimination to be proved is suffered not by that convicted first-degree murderer but by someone else in another place and time. Can you believe it?
Since the modern era (1976) when our death penalty statutes were reformed to comply with U.S. Supreme Court decision, there has not been a single execution of a person who had any claim to factual innocence. Yet that canard is why we have effectively had a 16-year moratorium on death sentences for first-degree murderers.
For those with a desire for extensive discussion and research on the injustice of the Racial Justice Act, please see this 2013 debate on the final repeal of the Racial Justice Act.
The victims of the Racial Justice Act have been mostly innocent African Americans. Numerically most of the victims of homicide in North Carolina are African Americans. Several hundred of them and their families have been denied justice and an appropriate deterrent now for 13 years. Not everything proposed in the name of “racial justice” is worthy of the name.
Skip Stam was Speaker Pro Tem of the North Carolina House of Representatives in 2013 when the Racial Justice Act was repealed.