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Reams v. Arkansas

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Criminal Justice | Capital Punishment

Kenneth Reams’ case epitomizes the injustices associated with the administration of the death penalty in the South.  Mr. Reams, who is African-American, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death for the killing of a white man during the course of an ATM robbery in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.  When Mr. Reams was sentenced to death, he was the youngest person then on Arkansas’ death row. 

Mr. Reams’ conviction and sentence were the product of a fatally flawed system – Mr. Reams was represented by an appointed lawyer who did not properly investigate the case, did not retain necessary experts, and did not meaningfully challenge the government’s case against Mr. Reams. The trial prosecutors excluded black prospective jurors on the basis of race and withheld from the defense critical evidence that would have undermined the state’s case. Additionally, Mr. Reams was tried by a judge who was later convicted of a felony and removed from the bench.  Not surprisingly, given how the odds were stacked against him, Mr. Reams received the death penalty while his co-defendant – who was the shooter in this case – was allowed to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence.

This case shows that in the South, the death penalty is not reserved for the “worst of the worst.”

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) began representing Mr. Reams after the Supreme Court of Arkansas affirmed his conviction and sentence on direct appeal.  LDF is working to have his death sentence and conviction thrown out.