The murder on January 1, 1979 of a prominent white business man in the small southern American community of Lincolnton, GA led to the arrest, trial and death row sentence of a young African-American woman named Emma Cunningham. After an appeal and plea bargain, her sentence was commuted to life with parole. Altogether, she spent almost 12 years in prison for a crime that considerable evidence, including the trial transcripts, indicates that she did not commit. Her plight attracted the assistance of attorney Millard Farmer of Dead Man Walking fame, the late Ruth Walker Hood, older sister of Pulitzer Prize winning author Alice Walker and Emily Saliers, one of the Grammy Award singing duo the Indigo Girls. Writing about Emma's experience converges around cultural, ethical, social and legal issues. Although Emma's survival is a personal story of tragedy and courage, her experiences are illustrative of generally significant human behavior. Stunningly, during the most ill-fated and often ominous situations, Emma unlike many others was motivated by "ordinary" genius to transcend, through her creative energy and ethnic strength. This paper places Emma's specific experiences into the larger framework of the legal and political issues to provide a matrix for examination of the death penalty and the inequalites of the criminal justice system. The structure of the paper includes social interactions, cultural issues, and ideological frameworks.
Ruth Johnson Carter, Georgia College State University (GCSU), United States
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