FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON - The acquittal of Alan Gell -- the nation's 113th exonerated death row inmate -- is the latest powerful evidence that North Carolina needs a moratorium on executions, the American Civil Liberties Union said today.
""Alan Gell was sentenced to death because avoidable mistakes were made,"" said Diann Rust-Tierney, Director of the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project. ""North Carolina must act to suspend executions while these flaws are addressed. The human costs to Alan Gell and the victim's family and the economic costs to the citizens of North Carolina are enormous.""
Gell was wrongfully convicted of the 1995 murder of Alan Ray Jenkins and imprisoned for nine years, five of which he spent on death row. Gell, who has maintained his innocence since his 1998 conviction, was acquitted today at the conclusion of his retrial. His exoneration comes just three months before the North Carolina House of Representatives is scheduled to take a historic vote that could halt executions in this closely watched Southern state.
Gell was awarded a new trial in December of 2002 because the state attorney general's office withheld crucial evidence that clearly pointed to his innocence. Despite evidence proving that Gell could not have committed the murder and despite the lack of any new scientific evidence after the state conducted another investigation, the Attorney General's office decided to retry Gell for first degree, non-capital murder.
Rust-Tierney noted that Gell's acquittal comes 12 days after the exoneration of Darryl Hunt, who spent 18 years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit. ""North Carolina cannot afford to continue to convict innocent people, especially when the punishment is death,"" she said.
Gell and Hunt are just two of a growing number of men wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death in North Carolina. Jerry Hamilton was recently awarded a new trial because the state withheld evidence that points to his innocence. Charles Munsey was also awarded a new trial because prosecutors withheld evidence of his innocence; another man who confessed to acting alone was later convicted of the murder. Alfred Rivera and Tim Hennis were both sentenced to death, and like Gell, acquitted in retrials.
Last May, the North Carolina Senate approved a measure to implement a moratorium on executions while the state's death penalty is examined, marking the first time since the reinstatement of the death penalty that a legislative body in the South has voted to halt executions. Members of the House are expected to take up the measure when the legislature resumes in May 2004.
""North Carolina is not alone in having serious flaws in its death penalty,"" says Rachel King, State Campaign Coordinator for the Capital Punishment Project. ""One hundred and thirteen people have been released from death rows in 25 states. Illinois has had a moratorium on executions since 2000 and Maryland had a moratorium in place in 2002. Moratorium and death row conviction study bills are being considered in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Tennessee, Georgia, California and Idaho. We hope that North Carolina will takes its place among states that have recognized that implementing a moratorium is the responsible, fair and just way to address wrongful convictions.""