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Human Rights Archive - Teaching with Primary Sources

Subject Guide

Patrick Stawski's picture
Patrick Stawski
Contact:
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Duke University, Box 90185
Durham, NC 27708
Email me: patrick.stawski@duke.edu
Call me:919-660-5823
Website

Overview

The Rubenstein Library's Human Rights Archive contains extensive primary sources on the death penalty, also known as capital punishment, and its impact on individuals, families, and communities. Collections include post conviction case files as well as the historical files of anti-death penalty advocacy groups. This session introduces students to the issues surrounding the death penalty by exploring and critically analyzing a set of these sources.

This module was developed by Hannah Ontiveros, The Marshall T. Meyer Human Rights Intern 2020-2021, PhD candidate Duke University Dept. of History.

Learning Objectives

Learning Objectives

  • Analyze documents related to death penalty litigation.
  • Interpret accounts of people involved in death penalty litigation, and legal arguments regarding the death penalty. 
  • Identify key components of death penalty litigation.

Guiding Questions

  • What events are mentioned in each document?
  • How do authors of documents talk about the defendant? The case?
  • How do people talk about the process of death penalty litigation?
  • How do people articulate their arguments relative to Human Rights?

Key Events

  • 1972: Furman v. Georgia suspends capital punishment in U.S.  
  • 1976: Gregg v. Georgia reinstates capital punishment in U.S.
  • July 2003: Jimmy McNeill was convicted of murder, sentenced to death penalty
  • August 18, 2006: Samuel Flippen executed. This is the most recent execution in North Carolina, though defendants still continue to be sentenced the death penalty.
  • March 2009: McNeill’s MAR granted, death penalty vacated, receives life without parole.

Contextual Readings

Death Penalty Information Center, North Carolina.” n.d. Death Penalty Information Center. 

The Center for Death Penalty Litigation.” n.d. The Center for Death Penalty Litigation.

The Case Against the Death Penalty.” n.d. American Civil Liberties Union.

"The Next to Die", The Marshall Project

Additional Resources for Instructors

High School Curriculum on the Death Penalty.”

Capital Punishment in Context.”

Assignment Plan

Before class: familiarize yourself with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation archives, and the capital trial and capital appeals processes. Read the short description of the Jimmy McNeill case from which these documents are drawn.

Day of assignment: Either individually or in groups, complete the Human Rights Document Analysis Worksheet [downloadable from the box to the left of the screen] for each of the following documents. Alternatively, If you are working as a class, divide into groups and each group can analyze one document. (~30 minutes).

After filling out the document analysis sheet, share the results of your analysis and discuss these questions (~30 minutes):

  1. What is the process of sentencing someone to the death penalty?
  2. What objections do people raise to the death penalty?
  3. How do Human Rights considerations contribute to people’s perspective on the death penalty?
  4. What considerations do the courts take into account during death penalty appeals?
  5. What does Jimmy McNeill’s case tell us about the criminal justice system?
  6. What does it tell us about capital cases?
  7. What does it tell us about the individual people involved in this particular case?

Documents from the Jimmy McNeill case

The three documents are drawn from the Center for Death Penalty Litigation (CDPL) case files for State of NC vs. Jimmy McNeill.  In July 2003 Jimmy McNeill was convicted of the April 2000 murder of his wife, Shirley McNeill, and of discharging a weapon into occupied property. McNeill was sentenced to death, and to 34 to 50 months for the weapon conviction. In March 2009, the NC Superior Court granted McNeill a Motion for Appropriate Relief (MAR) on the grounds that a juror had inappropriately sought advice regarding punishment from a third party during the sentencing phase. On March 12, 2009 Superior Court Judge Richard Doughton vacated the death sentence and ordered a resentencing hearing; McNeill was sentenced to life without parole.

Document #1

"McNeill gets Death", Laurinburg Exchange, Box 155, Newspaper Clippings, The Center for Death Penalty Litigation Records, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University, Durham, NC.

Document #2

Lawyers statement., Box 155, Newspaper Clippings, The Center for Death Penalty Litigation Records, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University, Durham, NC

Document #3

Order Granting Defendant's MAR, Box 155, Newspaper Clippings, The Center for Death Penalty Litigation Records, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University, Durham, NC