USA: Gay man to be executed after sexuality raised at trial

While the jury was considering its sentence during the 1994 trial, the prosecutor argued that because Mr Hartman was gay the sexual abuse he had suffered as a child should not be considered as mitigating evidence when deciding whether to imprison or execute. There are also concerns that Mr Hartman's court-appointed defence was of seriously poor quality and failed to present evidence of diminished culpability due to a head injury, mental health problems and substance abuse.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'The prosecutor's attempt to use Mr Hartman's sexuality against him at trial was totally unacceptable, and we cannot possibly know the effect of his irrelevant and inflammatory questioning on the jury. For this reason alone the execution must not be allowed to proceed.

'Every death sentence is an affront to human dignity, and every execution is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it. This is a punishment which extends the suffering of one family - that of the murder victim - to another, that of the condemned prisoner.'

Thirty nine-year-old Eddie Hartman was sentenced to death in October 1994 for the robbery and murder of Herman Smith, who was shot dead in Northampton County on 3 June 1993. Eddie Hartman was arrested and voluntarily confessed to the shooting.

At the sentencing phase of a US capital trial, the prosecution argues for execution and the defence presents mitigating evidence in favour of a sentence less than death. At Eddie Hartman's sentencing, his mother appeared as a witness and testified to the jury about the sexual abuse that her son had suffered as a child at the hands of older male relatives. Cross-examining the mother about evidence that her brother had repeatedly sexually assaulted the boy when he was eight or nine years old, the Northampton County prosecutor asked, 'is not your son a homosexual?' in an apparent attempt to blunt the impact of this mitigating evidence.

Eddie Hartman's aunt was also called to testify about the sexual abuse. Cross-examining her about abuse the defendant suffered when he was 11 years-old, the prosecutor said to the aunt: 'Well, you knew that Mr Hartman is a homosexual. You've heard that.' After the defence objected to this improper question, an objection which the judge sustained, the prosecutor persisted with his irrelevant and inflammatory line of questioning, asking 'Did you know what sexual persuasion the defendant was?'

The jury sentenced Eddie Hartman to death. In post-conviction proceedings, asked about his line of questioning regarding Eddie Hartman's homosexuality and the abuse he had suffered as a young child, the prosecutor said that, 'it seems to me that if someone is a practising homosexual, that that may in some way ? it's a little bit different for someone being a practising homosexual in his real life as opposed to someone who said he had been assaulted at some point in time.'

According to his current lawyers, at the guilt/innocence phase of the trial, Eddie Hartman's court-appointed counsel did not present the jury with evidence of diminished culpability due to a head injury he sustained and his mental health and substance abuse problems. The North Carolina State Bar recently suspended the law licence of one of his trial lawyers.

Last year, the Common Sense Foundation, a non-governmental body which promotes progressive public policy in North Carolina, issued a study which found that one in six death row inmates in the state had been represented at trial by lawyers who have been disciplined by the State Bar Association, while less than one percent of all lawyers receive such disciplinary action.

Eddie Hartman's family background was abusive and dysfunctional. His mother, who gave birth to him when she was 17 years old, separated from Eddie's father when the boy was aged eight months, and he had no contact with his father until he was 18 years old. His mother married a total of six times. Eddie Hartman was beaten by three of the husbands. On one occasion, he was allegedly beaten with a club, leaving him unconscious, and in hospital for a week. He witnessed his mother being subjected to domestic violence,and also witnessed her attempt to commit suicide by taking an overdose and slashing her wrists. She and other relatives suffered from alcoholism, and Eddie Hartman began drinking around the age of 11 and subsequently became alcoholic himself.

Globally, 112 countries have abolished the death penalty. In contrast, the USA has put 875 men and Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights to death since resuming executions in 1977. The vast majority of these executions have been carried out in the past decade. There have been 55 executions in the USA so far this year.

Amnesty International is asking people to write urgently to the authorities in North Carolina:

  • expressing sympathy for the family and friends of Herman Smith
  • opposing the execution of Eddie Hartman
  • expressing deep concern at the attempt by the prosecutor to use the defendant's sexuality against him at trial, and suggesting that it is impossible to know what effect this had on the jury
  • expressing concern that the trial lawyers failed to raise evidence of diminished culpability at the guilt phase of the trial,
  • calling for clemency for Eddie Hartman in the interests of justice, decency, and the reputation of North Carolina.

Appeals can be sent to:
State Governor Michael F. Easley,
Office of the Governor,
20301 Mail Service Center,
Raleigh,
NC 27699,
USA;
Fax: 001 919 715 3175 / 919 733 2120;
Email via website http://www.governor.state.nc.us

Amnesty International UK and Reprieve are holding a free public talk in London on 10th October to mark World Against the Death Penalty day. More information... /p>

View latest press releases