Black victim, white killer, rare consequences

On this day in 1995: Fourteen years after being convicted of the rape and murder of a N.C. Wesleyan College cheerleader, Kermit Smith is executed by lethal injection at Central Prison in Raleigh.

Smith becomes the first white person in North Carolina — and the second in the nation the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 — to be executed for killing a black person.


Gov. Cherry steps up, state listens up

“In North Carolina, the crimes of murder, arson, burglary and rape are punishable by death. Fourteen-year-old Negro Ernest Brooks committed two of them. One night he broke into a Wilmington home, raped a woman eight months pregnant. Caught the next day, Negro Brooks confessed, was sentenced to death.

“Last week Governor R. Gregg Cherry commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. Said he, in a statement rare for a Southern governor: ‘The crimes are revolting, but a part of the blame . . . arises from the neglect of the State and society to provide a better environment. . . . Our public schools, equipped with capable teachers . . . [and] an effective compulsory-attendance law, would do much to correct delinquency among all races.’  Rarer still, in all North Carolina there was no outcry.”

— From Time magazine, Jan. 7, 1946