EXTERNAL AI Index: AMR 51/142/95
EXTRA 137/95 Death Penalty 9 November 1995
USA (Indiana)Gary BURRIS
Gary Burris, black, is scheduled to be executed in Indiana on 29 November 1995. He was
sentenced to death in Feburary 1981 for the robbery and murder of black taxi driver Kenneth
Chambers. The two other men involved in crime were sentenced to prison terms and one has since
The Indiana Supreme Court reversed Burris' original death sentence finding that the attorneys
representing him at trial had been incompetent. The attorneys had described Burris as an
"insignificant, snivelly little street person" before the jury and had failed to investigate Burris' life in
order to present evidence arguing for a sentence less than death.
In 1992, another sentencing hearing was held. The jury was unable to agree on whether or not to
impose a death sentence. However, the judge chose to impose a death sentence. The Indiana
Attorney General's Office, in its brief to the Indiana Supreme Court, conceded that a sentence less
than death would have been reasonable in Burris's case. Despite this, the Indiana Supreme Court
affirmed the death sentence.
The case against Burris rested on William Kirby, who testified that Burris had confessed the crime
to him in jail when they were both in police custody. Kirby was awaiting trial on charges of robbery,
possession of illicit drugs and of being a habitual offender. Following his testimony against Burris,
Kirby received a sentence of 10 years' imprisonment. The charge of being a habitual offender was
dropped at the State's request; saving Kirby from a 30-year term in prison. According to reports,
Kirby has since been released from prison and has committed several thefts, a kidnapping and an
Burris was abandoned as an infant and does not know the date and place of his birth or the names
of his parents. He was raised believing he had been found in a trash can by a pimp. The man who
found him raised Burris, in an environment of crime; they lived above a club, operated by the
pimp, which was frequently raided by police for prostitution, the illegal sale of alcohol and drugs
and gambling. Newland involved Burris in many of the illegal activities taking place around the
club. These included being a courier for drugs and alcohol and knocking on prostitutes' doors
when their clients' time was up. When Burris was 13 years old, Newland was convicted of
manslaughter and sent to prison.
The authorities then placed Burris in a foster home. The foster mother who cared for him
remembers that when she asked him once what he wanted for Christmas, he requested a birth
certificate or some information as to who he was.
Gary Burris has an "outstanding" prison record. He was selected by Department of Corrections staff
to work as a porter, a position awarded to an inmate who is trusted and liked. Several Department
of Corrections staff have testified on Burris' behalf in support of a sentence less than death.
Burris was one of eleven people charged with a capital crime between 1978 and 1981 during the
administration of Steven Goldsmith as Marion County's prosecutor. Of the eleven, nine were black
- a significant over-representation of the black population.