American Justice: Abuse Domineque Ray as a Boy, Discriminate Against Him as a Man, and on Death Row, Kill Him

The Supreme Court was OK with Domineque Ray’s execution.
The Supreme Court was OK with Domineque Ray’s execution.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Domineque Ray was born in a country that is proud of its stated principles, which supposedly include justice for all.

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For Ray, justice in America meant enduring sexual and other forms of physical abuse throughout his childhood, so much so that he was ashamed to even admit it to save his own life.

Propublica summed it up this way:

In their filings, Ray’s lawyers have laid out the details of what they say was a horrifying upbringing for a boy with an 80 IQ. Ray, 17 at the time of the first murders, had been beaten as he went from household to household from the age of 3 on — bouncing between Selma, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Virginia and South Carolina. After being left in an abandoned building in Chicago, he’d been taken in by state child welfare officials. He was then sent off to suffer more, sexually abused by his stepmother’s family as a toddler and encouraged by his mother to have sex with her friends when he was a teenager. He never made it past eighth grade. He’s since been diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder, characterized by severe social anxiety, paranoia and unusual beliefs.

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For Ray, justice in America meant enduring murder trials with inadequate legal representation in a system that disproportionately punishes black men and women at every level, trials that left legitimate questions about his guilt.

For Ray, justice in America meant that system ignored his upbringing and his low IQ even as it used a contested previous conviction against him to argue that he should be put down like a rapid dog.

For Ray, justice in America meant not even being allowed to have an imam at his side as the state unnecessarily and in a premeditated manner put him to death—in other contexts, that’s first-degree murder, but when the state does it, it’s legal and deemed justified—even though Christian prisoners are allowed to have a Christian chaplain by their side in the death chamber.

“Due to the nature of his crime, the decision of a jury to condemn him to death and because our legal system has worked as designed, Mr. Ray’s sentence was carried out,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement.

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Yes. Our legal system worked as designed. That’s the problem.

Bailey is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow and author of the book, "My Brother Moochie: Reclaiming Dignity in the Face of Crime, Poverty and Racism in the American South." He's a husband and father.

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DISCUSSION

theghostofjimmadison
The Ghost of James Madison's Rage Boner

I did some death penalty advocacy very early in my legal career. There’s a reason I didn’t do it for very long.

Except in the fairly rare cases where actual innocence is an issue, quite often everyone involved, including the victims, are awful people. The first case I worked on was a multiple murder. The victims were a drug dealer and his hooker girlfriend, both of whom had rap sheets a mile long. The killers were three black kids like this guy, 17, 15, and 14. All of them were tried as adults; the two oldest were sentenced to death. The victims didn’t deserve to die, but it was hard not to look at the whole picture and conclude these kids never really had a chance.

The problem with the death penalty in this country is its arbitrariness. Poor defendants, especially poor POC, get sentenced to death at rates several times those of middle class whites. Part of this is because prosecutors – who are almost all white – seek the death penalty more often against POC. You can look through all the stats here, but the evidence is pretty compelling.

Also, mistakes get made. A lot of them. That’s indisputable. But the system is not only not well-structured to correct them, it is actively biased against doing so. The law as it currently stands is designed to preserve convictions at almost all costs.

I am not 100% against capital punishment. But I am 100% against how we do it in this country. The system as it exists is neither fair nor impartial.