498 U.S. 927 (1990)

Annotate this Case
  • Syllabus  | 
  • Case

U.S. Supreme Court

EVANS v. MUNCY , 498 U.S. 927 (1990)

498 U.S. 927

Wilbert Lee EVANS, petitioner
Raymond MUNCY, Warden, et al. No. 90-5958.

Supreme Court of the United States

October 17, 1990

The application for stay of execution of sentence of death presented to THE CHIEF JUSTICE and by him referred to the Court is denied. The petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is denied.

Justice MARSHALL, dissenting.

This Court's approval of the death penalty has turned on the premise that given sufficient procedural safeguards the death penalty may be administered fairly and reliably. E.g., Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 195-196, and n. 47, 2935-36, and n. 47 ( 1976) (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and STEVENS, JJ.). Wilbert Evans' plea to be spared from execution demonstrates the fallacy of this assumption. Notwithstanding the panoply of procedural protections afforded Evans by this Court's capital jurisprudence, Evans today faces an imminent execution that even the State of Virginia appears to concede is indefensible in light of the undisputed facts proffered by Evans. Because an execution under these circumstances highlights the inherently cruel and unusual character of capital punishment, I dissent. [ Evans v. Muncy 498 U.S. 927 (1990) ][927-Continued.]


Evans was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. At the sentencing phase, the jury's verdict was predicated on a single aggravating circumstance: that if allowed to live Evans would pose a serious threat of future danger to society. See Va. Code 19.2-264.4(C) ( 1990). Without this finding, Evans could not have been sentenced to death . See e.g., Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 313, 2764 (1972) (WHITE, J., concurring) (existence of aggravating circumstance "distinguishing the few cases in which [the death penalty] is imposed" from those in which it is not is a constitutional prerequisite to death sentence); Gregg v. Georgia, supra, at 188-189 ( same).1

Page 498 U.S. 927 , 928

While Evans was on death row at the Mecklenberg Correctional Facility, an event occurred that casts grave doubt on the jury's prediction of Evans' future dangerousness. On May 31, 1984, six death row inmates at Mecklenberg attempted to engineer an escape. Armed with makeshift knives, these inmates took hostage 12 prison guards and 2 female nurses. The guards were stripped of their clothes and weapons, bound, and blindfolded. The nurses also were stripped of their clothes, and one was bound to an inmate's bed.

According to uncontested affidavits presented by guards taken hostage during the uprising, Evans took decisive steps to calm the riot, saving the lives of several hostages, and preventing the rape of one of the nurses. [Footnote 2] For instance, Officer Ricardo Holmes, who was bound by the escaping inmates and forced into a closet with other hostages, states that he heard Evans imploring to the escaping inmates, " 'Don't hurt anybody and everything will be allright.' " Officer Holmes continues:

    "It was very clear to me that [Evans] was trying to keep [the escaping inmates] calm and prevent them from getting out of control . . . . Based upon what I saw and heard, it is my firm opinion that if any of the escaping inmates had tried to harm us, Evans would have come to our aid. It is my belief that had it not been for Evans, I might not be here today." See Pet. for Cert., Exh. 14.

Other guards taken hostage during the uprising verify Officer Holmes' judgment that Evans protected them and the other hostages from danger. According to Officer Prince Thomas, Evans interceded to prevent the rape of Nurse Ethyl Barksdale by one of the escaping inmates. Id., Exh. 9. Officer Harold Crutchfield affirms that Evans' appeals to the escapees not to harm anyone may have meant the difference between life and death for the hostages. "It is . . . my firm belief that if Evans had not been present during the escape, things may have blown up and people [498 U.S. 927 , 929]

Disclaimer: Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.