Last June, Tyrone Wallace met his older brother, Desmond Carter, for the first time, as the two sat separated by a glass partition in the Central Prison visiting room. Carter, 35, is scheduled to be executed Tuesday for the 1992 murder of his next door neighbor.
“As you can imagine, it was a very moving visit,” said Wallace, who is in North Carolina lobbying to save his brother’s life. When Wallace, 25, who has the same father as Carter, saw his brother, he was struck “to see a man who looked so much like myself. … There wasn’t much said. We just really sat there and just looked at each other in awe.”
Last month, Wallace, along with several members of death-row inmate Ernest Basden’s family, traveled around the state in a tour sponsored by People of Faith Against the Death Penalty. Basden, 50, is scheduled to be executed Friday for the 1992 murder of a man whose death was plotted in part by his wife.
After a one-year hiatus from executions, the state has scheduled two in four days. Both Carter and Basden have little hope of relief from the U.S. Supreme Court. Their families are asking the public to lobby Gov. Mike Easley to grant clemency, an option the governor has used twice in past cases. Easley has also refused to grant clemency in five other cases in which executions were carried out.
Wallace never knew his brother because Wallace was placed for adoption when he was 6 weeks old. He now works near Boston helping ex-offenders reintegrate into society after incarceration. Wallace says his brother “was intoxicated on a real deadly combination of drugs and alcohol” when he killed Helen Purdy, his neighbor, for $15 to buy more drugs. “At the time of his arrest, Desmond had alcohol, crack cocaine and tranquilizers in his bloodstream,” Wallace said.
Wallace says that a few days before the murder his brother sought help for his addictions, but a hospital turned Carter away because he didn’t have health insurance. Carter’s trial lawyers were so inexperienced that they overlooked key defensive arguments that may have helped Carter avoid a death sentence, said appellate lawyer David Lloyd.
During a stop at Raleigh’s Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Wallace sat on stage next to a blown-up snapshot of his smiling brother. On the same stage, three members of Basden’s family sat next to three blown-up snapshots of Ernest as a little boy on the family’s Jones County farm. During his stay, Wallace and the Basden family have bonded with each other.
Ernest Basden was the youngest of Mary Belle and James Nelson Basden’s 10 children. He was convicted in the killing of Billy White, which also involved two others–Basden’s nephew, Lynwood Taylor, and the murder victim’s wife, Sylvia White, who is said to have masterminded the crime. Neither Taylor nor White received the death penalty, yet lawyers for Basden claim both were more culpable in the murder of Billy White than Basden.
Center for Death Penalty Litigation director Ken Rose says allowing two co-defendants to eventually go free, while executing the third, would be “a grave injustice.”
At a stop in Kinston, near where the Basden family grew up, five of Basden’s brothers and sisters and about a dozen other friends and family members gathered at the Broken Eagle Eatery for a press conference and forum to promote a call for clemency for Basden. Six Basden siblings have spent the last decade taking turns driving the approximately 75-mile trip down U.S. 70 so Ernest can get a weekly visit. Two siblings– Lynwood Taylor’s mother, and another brother –have been estranged from the family since the murder.
At 67, Guy Basden is the eldest son. It was Guy, then a high schooler, who drove his mother to a Kinston hospital the night Ernest was born. Since their mother died as a result of a 1967 auto accident, when Ernest was just 14, Guy says he has assumed “a sense of duty to be like my dad” to the family– especially to Ernest.
The trips to Central Prison have been a “labor of love,” Guy says. “That’s the best way I can put it.” Guy says his brother’s “very presence penetrates the space between us” during the non-contact visits. “It penetrates so it’s like this wall is not there.”
Sonya Clark has been visiting her uncle Ernest in prison since she was 10 years old on trips to the prison with her mother, Rose Clark, Ernest’s sister. Now 18, Sonya joined the tour as it moved around the state. She chose to speak about her friendship with her uncle at each stop.
“He’s the best uncle in the world,” Sonya said in Kinston, recalling the way they tease each other because she is a Duke sports fan and Ernest roots for UNC. “I believe in him so much. He’s just a good man.”
Rose, who sits on the board of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, and her husband, Denny, spearhead the family’s support for Ernest. She was among a group of family members and attorneys that met with Easley on Dec. 3 to make the case for clemency. Rose Clark says the decade-long effort to support Ernest has been “consuming–it never leaves you. You’re always aware of it.”
Prior to the clemency hearing, Guy Basden remained optimistic that Easley would spare his brother’s life. “We’ve got a good case,” he said. Sonya said she discussed the matter with her uncle during a November visit. “Last visit I saw him he said that he’s going to live out his life like he’s going to be executed Dec. 6,” she said. “He’s just amazing. He says he’s ready to die if he has to.”
“It’s not for us to choose who lives and who dies and whether it’s right or wrong,” she said. “It’s up to God.”