Local News

Gov. Easley Commutes Inmate's Death Sentence

Posted October 2, 2001 5:54 a.m. EDT

— Gov. Mike Easley, a former prosecutor whose ability to fairly hear clemency petitions was challenged by a death row inmate, on Tuesday commuted the man's death sentence to life in prison.

Robert Bacon Jr. was to have been executed by injection at 2 a.m. Friday for the 1987 stabbing death of his lover's husband in Onslow County.

His execution had originally been scheduled for May, but was delayed when his lawyers challenged Easley's power to consider a clemency petition, based on the governor's past work as a prosecutor and state attorney general. It was delayed again last month when Easley said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks hindered Bacon's access to courts.

Bacon's lawyers claimed Easley was biased because he had argued for the death penalty in his previous jobs. The state Supreme Court, which had allowed Easley to hold a clemency hearing in May, ultimately rejected the appeal.

Easley had not announced a decision on the clemency petition until now.

"I am satisfied that the prosecutors and judges acted fairly and professionally in this case," he said in a statement Tuesday. "However, as governor, my review of this matter in its totality causes me to conclude that the appropriate sentence for the defendant is life without parole," Easley said.

Prosecutors argued that Bacon's lover, Bonnie Clark, plotted the killing of her husband, Marine Sgt. Glennie Clark, for a share of a $130,000 life insurance policy. Mrs. Clark received a life sentence for the murder.

"We're just thrilled," said Bacon's attorney, Gretchen Engel of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. "I haven't told Robert yet, but I'm headed for the prison right now to tell him. This is what he deserves."

She referred to one of two pending federal appeals, which argues that Bacon's jury was racially biased.

"I think this case was just so unfair and Easley saw that," she said. "Easley has demonstrated sensitivity to the racial issues and the issues of fairness tonight."

That appeal, filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, contends that Bacon's execution should be delayed until a commission of the Organization of American States holds a hearing on allegations of jury bias.

A former juror said in an affidavit that jurors talked about race when deliberating the case. Bacon is black and Clark is white.

The other appeal, filed in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, argues again that Easley is biased.