CRAIG v. NORTH CAROLINA,
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484 U.S. 887 (1987)
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U.S. Supreme Court
CRAIG v. NORTH CAROLINA , 484 U.S. 887 (1987)
484 U.S. 887
Andrew Weddington CRAIG and Francis Marion Anthony
Supreme Court of the United States
October 5, 1987
On petition for writ of certiorari to the Superior Court of North Carolina, Cabarrus County.
The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.
Justice MARSHALL, with whom Justice BRENNAN joins, dissenting.
I continue to believe that the death penalty is in all circumstances cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 231, 2973 (1976) (MARSHALL, J., dissenting). But even if I did not hold this view, I would grant this petition for certiorari because the state courts failed to give proper consideration to a recantation by the prosecution's star witness that throws grave doubt on the propriety of sentencing petitioners to death.
A grand jury indicted petitioners Andrew Weddington Craig and Francis Marion Anthony in 1981 for the offenses of first-degree murder, common-law robbery, and robbery with a dangerous weapon. At trial, the prosecution attempted to prove that petitioners and Betty Jean Howie had robbed Seab and Edith Ritch and then had killed Edith Ritch by stabbing her repeatedly . Howie's testimony was the only evidence offered to show that petitioners had participated in the stabbing. Howie stated that she and petitioners had taken turns stabbing Edith Ritch with a pocketknife. This testimony was, at the very least, undermined
by medical testimony that the multiple stab wounds were "very much uniform in depth, range, uniform in angle of penetration and probably uniform forcewise." Pet. for Cert. 6. At the close of trial, petitioners were convicted of all charges and sentenced to death. The Supreme Court of North Carolina affirmed the convictions and sentences. 308 N.C. 446, 302 S.E.2d 740 (1983), Howie pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree and received a sentence of life imprisonment.
A few months after the North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed petitioners' convictions and sentences, petitioner Anthony received an unsolicited letter from Howie stating that she wanted to "g[o] back to court and tel[l] the truth" about the case. Pet. for Cert. 7. Petitioners immediately filed a joint motion for appropriate relief, and the trial court held a hearing at which Howie testified. In her testimony, Howie stated that she alone had stabbed Edith Ritch, although petitioners had participated in the robbery and remained on the scene during the murder. Howie further testified that she was recanting her trial testimony over the objections of her family and her counsel, who had warned her that the recantation would expose her to further prosecution. Howie explained that "I was trying to live with a lie and no one knows . . . what it has done to me, what it has taken me through." Id., at 8. After listening to Howie's testimony, the trial court denied petitioners' motion for relief. In a cursory decision, the court first found that the recantation testimony was "probably not true" and "in some instances [was] incredible." App. to Pet. for Cert. A-2. The court then stated that even if the recantation were true, it would not change the result of the prior proceedings because the recantation itself showed that petitioners had " attempted to kill, or participated in the killing, or intended it, or contemplated that life may be taken in the commission of the felony robbery." Id., at A-3.
The trial court's conclusion that Howie's recantation, if believed, would not change the result of the prior proceedings is insupportable under our case law. That conclusion rests on the view that a sentencer may permissibly impose the death sentence if the defendant "contemplated that life may be taken in the commission" of a felony. In Tison v. Arizona, 481 U.S. 137 (1987), however, this Court explicitly rejected such a view. We stated that the death penalty is supportable in felony-murder cases only upon a [484 U.S. 887 , 889]