A Robeson County activist charged with first-degree murder might eventually face the death penalty, but not if a group of UNC students have anything to say about it.
A student-organized forum designed to shed light on the case of accused murderer Eddie Hatcher was held Thursday night at Peabody Hall. Hatcher was arrested in June 1999 for the drive-by shooting of Brian McMillan.
The forum was sponsored by the Eddie Hatcher Defense Committee, UNC Campaign to End the Death Penalty and Internationalist Books.
About 50 students from organizations such as Students United for a Responsible Global Environment and CEDP showed up to support Hatcher, a Native American activist who they believe is innocent of the accusations.
"People know about Eddie Hatcher . we're hoping to put his case back on the map," said John Johnson of CEDP, who helped organize the forum. "We're trying to get the facts out to the people."
These facts came from Hatcher himself, who spoke from the Robeson County Jail via telephone to the forum.
Hatcher has long been an opponent of Robeson County authorities and gained national attention in 1988 when he and another man held workers hostage at a Lumberton newspaper. Hatcher sought to expose alleged drug trafficking and corruption in the local government. He also had been investigating the shooting of a Lumbee Native American by a sheriff's deputy.
Hatcher was arrested and sentenced to 18 years for the hostage-taking but was released after contracting the HIV virus.
For the pending murder charge, he has been held in jail for 18 months without an arraignment, although a trial has already been scheduled for January 2001.
Hatcher claimed he had nothing to do with the murder of McMillan and said Robeson County District Attorney Joseph Britt is abusing his power. "He's running rampant and wild, holding people on no evidence," Hatcher said.
Hatcher's mother, Thelma Clark, intrigued students with her viewpoints. Clark passionately defended her son, specifically in the 1988 incident. "(The government) can do so much and get away with it . break the law, pull guns on people," she said.
She said the community was prohibited to discuss what she and her son felt was obvious corruption in the local system. "One of the ways to bring about change is to ask questions," she said. "What Eddie had to do in '88 should not have been his only option."
Students at the forum were shown clips from an interview with Maurice Geiger of the Connecticut-based Rural Justice Center. Geiger has researched the case and believes Hatcher is innocent. "Hatcher's been a thorn in (the local government's) side," he said in the video.
He explained that the district attorney has withheld evidence, and prosecutors have pressured witnesses to concoct false statements against Hatcher.
CEDP plans to send members to the upcoming trials and to hold a benefit concert at the Cat's Cradle and a rally at the N.C. Supreme Court in December. Clark is confident that justice will be served in her son's case, and seeing the student support at the forum verified that feeling. "It makes me feel so good," she said. "I just want people to see what's going on."
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