Due to a reporting error, this story incorrectly states that the state will reimburse Edward Chapman for his 15 years in prison. He must be granted a proclamation of innocence by the governor to receive the reparations funds.The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.
Facing the charge of first-degree murder, Edward Chapman was exonerated from North Carolina’s death row in 2007.
Three years later, Chapman can be found advocating against the death penalty along with the North Carolina Coalition for a Moratorium and the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.
On Wednesday night, several activists and scholars against the death penalty gathered in the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History for a panel discussion exploring the role of race in the death penalty and North Carolina’s passage of the Racial Justice Act.
The act’s purpose is to make justice colorblind and was passed due to findings that the death penalty is given at a disproportionately high rate to black males in the South, especially when the victims are white females.
Speakers included UNC professors Frank Baumgartner and Isaac Unah. Edward Chapman was present to share his story as an innocent man on death row for 15 years.
Jennifer Thompson spoke of her experience as a rape victim who falsely accused Ronald Cotton for the rape, which she later turned into a book with Cotton called “Picking Cotton.” Thompson said she and Cotton, who served about 11 years in prison after being falsely accused, are both victims of a flawed system.
“Picking Cotton” is the true story of the friendship that developed between Thompson and Cotton and will be the 2010 summer reading book for incoming UNC students.
Jeremy Collins, director of the North Carolina Coalition for a Moratorium, said the purpose of the event was to make people aware of the Racial Justice Act in hopes that they will get involved in such legislation and remain engaged. The next cause the coalition is pursuing is prohibiting the execution of the mentally ill, Collins said.
Thompson said 75 percent of all wrongful convictions are due to false eyewitness identification claims.
In her case, DNA evidence was able to exonerate Cotton and identify the culprit, but she said most falsely accused persons are not as lucky, as DNA evidence is not always available.
Chapman said the state is reimbursing him for his imprisonment by paying him $50,000 for each of the 15 years he was incarcerated.
Although he refers to some of the inmates he spent time with as family, Chapman said no amount of money can make up for time lost.
“You can’t give back 15 years of life,” he said.