The following is a statement from Marcia A. Widder and Robert C. Owen, attorneys for Orlando Hall:
Today, the Department of Justice announced that it plans to execute Orlando Hall on November 19, 2020, a Black man sentenced to death by an all-White jury, despite serious concerns about racial bias in the selection of his jury, the fact that jurors did not know key facts about Mr. Hall’s background, and the fact that Mr. Hall’s remorse over the crime (which his jury was not allowed to hear) shows that he is not among the “worst of the worst” for whom the death penalty is properly reserved. Below is a statement from Mr. Hall’s legal team, followed by background about the case and the federal death penalty system.
Orlando Hall, a Black man, was sentenced to death by an all-White jury. Mr. Hall has never denied the role he played in the tragic death of Lisa Rene. But the jury that sentenced him to death did not know key facts about his background, and the path toward personal redemption that Mr. Hall has followed in prison shows that he is not among the ‘worst of the worst’ for whom the death penalty is properly reserved.
The proceedings that led to Mr. Hall’s death sentence were marked by racial bias and incompetent lawyering. During jury selection, the prosecution team enlisted the help of a former state prosecutor known for keeping Black citizens from serving on criminal juries. With his help, an all-White jury was seated to decide Mr. Hall’s fate. In the years since Mr. Hall’s trial, the U.S. Supreme Court has expressly found that this very prosecutor, in a trial that preceded Mr. Hall’s, discriminated against Black potential jurors on account of their race and then lied under oath in an attempt to conceal his racist conduct. In this way, Mr. Hall’s case also reflects the significant and troubling racial disparities in the operation of the federal death penalty, in which 60% of those currently on federal death row are people of color, including 45% who are Black. Indeed, just this year the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the only tribunal ever to meaningfully consider Mr. Hall’s claims of racial injustice, concluded that Mr. Hall was sentenced to death in violation of the “most basic human right” of equality before the law.
Also, because Mr. Hall’s court-appointed attorneys conducted no meaningful investigation into the case, the jurors were unaware of the severe trauma Mr. Hall suffered growing up in a home marked by poverty and brutality, where he and his siblings witnessed almost daily violence in their parents’ marriage. Nor did they hear how Mr. Hall first fell into selling illegal drugs when he was left alone to care for his younger brothers after his parents essentially abandoned the younger children. They also did not learn that Mr. Hall had once heroically saved the life of his three-year-old nephew by leaping from a second-floor balcony to rescue the child from drowning in a motel swimming pool. Had jurors known these facts about Mr. Hall, there is every reason to believe they would have spared his life, despite his admitted involvement in a terrible crime.
Moreover, Mr. Hall has always expressed profound regret for his actions. As early as the sentencing phase of his trial, he asked to be allowed to offer a statement of apology to the victim’s family, but the court refused to let him do so. That statement read, in part: ‘I want to apologize to Lisa Rene's family and ask them to forgive me, even though I know that there is no possible way they can forgive me and I understand that. I want to ask God to forgive me, however, I question in my own mind whether even God can forgive me.’ Mr. Hall will always be deeply ashamed that he allowed events to unfold as they did and participated in taking Lisa Rene’s life.
Mr. Hall was 23 years old at the time of the crime. Now 49, Mr. Hall has spent the years since his trial living peacefully and productively on death row, in an imperfect attempt to make amends, honor his victim, and better the lives of his own children and other people. A former warden has described Mr. Hall’s record of successful adjustment to incarceration as ‘remarkable,’ and found ‘no indications’ that Mr. Hall poses a threat to anyone, inside prison or out.
In addition, only Mr. Hall and Bruce Webster were targeted by the government for a capital prosecution, despite the fact that each of the five defendants played substantial roles in the crime. Instead, each of the other three defendants were given plea deals to terms of years in exchange for testifying against Orlando Hall and Bruce Webster. All three have since completed their prison sentences and been released from custody.
Under these circumstances, allowing Mr. Hall’s execution to go forward would be a grave injustice.
- Marcia A. Widder and Robert C. Owen, Attorneys for Orlando Hall
- September 30, 2020