Introduction and Death Penalty History
Prof. Bright sets out some of the issues that will be examined during the course and puts the death penalty in historical context. To illustrate some themes, we examine the case of Rickey Ray Rector, executed in Arkansas in 1992. Rector was a black man, who suffered from serious mental deficiencies at the time of his execution. Then-governor Bill Clinton denied his application for clemency. From race to mental illness to the political nature of the death penalty, Rector’s case contains many elements that will recur in the course. Next, Prof. Bright describes some of the history of race, the death penalty and the criminal courts, including slavery, lynching and the leasing of convicts after the abolition of slavery. Historian Gilbert King describes the case of the Groveland Boys, four young African American men charged with the rape of a white woman in Florida in 1949, who were defended by Thurgood Marshall and other lawyers from the NAACP. King describes the case based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, and illustrates it with photographs of the participants in the trial.
A discussion of the topics to be covered in the course including poverty, the right to a lawyer, racial discrimination, mental illness, intellectual disability, and the factors involved in how sentencing decisions are made.
Tagged under: Yale,Capital Punishment,Stephen Bright,Death Penalty,Race,Poverty,Disadvantage,racial disparities,injustice
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