PUBLIC AI Index: AMR 51/130/2001
EXTRA 59/01 Death penalty / Legal concern 31 August 2001
USA (North Carolina) Robert Bacon, black, aged 41
Robert Bacon is scheduled to be executed in North Carolina on 21 September
2001. He was sentenced to death for the 1987 murder of Glennie Clark.
Glennie Clark, white, was the estranged husband of Bonnie Clark, also white.
She left him after he became alcoholic and physically abusive towards her and
their two children. However, he continued to harass her. She began a relationship
with Robert Bacon, and, on her repeated suggestion, they agreed to kill Glennie
Clark. On the first attempt to carry out the plan, Bacon refused at the last
minute. The next night, they drove to Glennie Clark’s house. Clark reacted
angrily when he saw the couple together and a heated discussion ensued about
the relationship. At some point, Glennie Clark called Bacon a “nigger”, and
Bacon stabbed him.
The sole aggravating factor in the murder making it punishable by the death
penalty was that it was committed for pecuniary gain; Bonnie Clark stood to
receive $130,000 in life insurance. She was convicted of first-degree murder
and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Robert Bacon was sentenced to death by an all-white jury in 1987. In 1990,
the state Supreme Court overturned the sentence. At a 1991 resentencing, Bacon
was again condemned by an all-white jury, in a county whose population was
about 20 per cent African American. Before Bacon’s 1987 trial, his lawyer had
unsuccessfully sought to prohibit the state from dismissing African Americans
from the jury, citing the prosecutor’s “pattern of discrimination” in capital
Bacon’s appeal lawyer interviewed jurors from the 1991 sentencing and an
alternate juror from 1987. In an affidavit, she stated that two of the 1991
jurors said that during their deliberations, reference was made to Bacon’s
race and his involvement in an interracial relationship. The alternate juror
recalled jurors making racial “jokes” during the 1987 trial.
In May 2001, one of the jurors from the 1991 resentencing came forward to sign
an affidavit supporting clemency. She recalls that “some jurors felt that it
was wrong for a black man to date a white woman. Jurors also felt that black
people commit more crime and that it is typical of blacks to be involved in
crime... some jurors were adamant in their feeling that Bacon was a black man
and “he deserved what he got””.
The 1991 jury found in mitigation that Bacon had acted under the domination
of Bonnie Clark, had no history of violent behaviour and was unlikely to commit
another violent crime, that he was remorseful, and that his co-defendant was
serving a life sentence. They still voted for death. The juror’s affidavit
quoted above recalls that during deliberations, the jury was initially 10-2
for death. The two who favoured a life sentence switched their votes to death
after the majority “complained that this should be an easy decision and that
we were taking too long. The other jurors emphasized that Bacon had received
the death penalty the first time, a fact we knew because Bacon’s attorney had
told it to us in closing argument” (if a prosecutor had done the same thing,
North Carolina case law suggests that it would have led to a new sentencing).