Scenes from Baquba suicide bombing
The motives of suicide bombers escape most of our understandings. This confusion presents a significant obstacle for policy makers trying to combat this type of crime. Robert J. Brym tackles this issue in his article “Six Lessons of Suicide Bombers” (Contexts, Fall 2007).  Use the discussion questions or the activity below to help students engage with this topic.

(This article, along with these activities will also be featured in the upcoming Contexts Reader.)

1)    Did it surprise you that suicide bombers tend not to be psychologically unstable or that they are not mainly motivated by religion? How do the facts and findings reported in this article conflict with our usual cultural understanding of terrorists and suicide bombers?

2)    Why don’t terrorist organizations recruit “crazy” people for suicide attacks, according to this article?

3)    Many countries refuse to negotiate with terrorists, stating that negotiation validates terrorism as a form of international relations. Based upon this article, do you think policies like this reduce the “boomerang effect” or make matters worse? Explain your answer.

ACTIVITY: Pretend you are the head of an anti-terrorism advisory board for the United Nations. Using Brym’s six lessons, devise a strategic action plan for combating and reducing instances of suicide bombing.

This case study was written by Minzee Kim, a Sociology Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota.  Minzee suggests that the activity be used with “Coping with Innocence After Death Row” by Saundra D. Westervelt and Kimberly J. Cook (Contexts, Fall 2008).

Factual background: In two separate incidents in July 1984, a male assailant broke into an apartment, severed phone wires, sexually assaulted a woman, and searched through her belongings, taking money and other items.

On August 1, 1984, Ronald Cotton was arrested for the rapes. In January 1985, Cotton was convicted by a jury of one count of rape and one count of burglary. In a second trial in November 1987, Cotton was convicted of both rapes and two counts of burglary. A County Superior Court sentenced Cotton to life plus 54 years.

Prosecutor’s evidence at trial: Cotton’s alibi was supported by family members. The jury was not allowed to hear evidence that the second victim failed to pick Cotton out of either a photo array or a police lineup. The prosecution based its case on several points:

· A photo identification was made by one of the victims.

· A police lineup identification was made by one of the victims.

· A flashlight in Cotton’s home resembled the one used by the assailant.

· Rubber from Cotton’s tennis shoe was consistent with rubber found at one of the crime scenes.

Post-conviction challenges: Cotton’s attorney filed an appeal. The North Carolina Supreme Court overturned the conviction because the second victim had picked another man out of the lineup and the trial court did not allow this evidence to be heard by the jury.

In November 1987, Cotton was retried for both rapes. The second victim had decided that Cotton was the assailant. Before the second trial, a man in prison who had been convicted for crimes similar to these assaults stated to another inmate that he had committed Cotton’s crimes. The superior court judge refused to allow this information into evidence, and Cotton was convicted of both rapes and sentenced to life.

The next year Cotton’s appellate defender filed a brief that did not argue the failure to admit the second suspect’s confession. The conviction was affirmed. In 1994, two new lawyers, at the request of the chief appellate defender, took over Cotton’s defense. They filed a motion for appropriate relief on the grounds of inadequate appeal counsel. They also filed a motion for DNA testing that was granted in October 1994. In the spring of 1995, the Burlington Police Department turned over all evidence that contained the assailant’s semen for DNA testing.

DNA results: The samples from one victim were too deteriorated to be conclusive, but the samples from the other victim’s vaginal swab and underwear were submitted to PCR testing and showed no match to Cotton. At the defense attorneys’ request, the results were sent to the State Bureau of Investigation’s DNA database containing the DNA patterns of convicted, violent felons in North Carolina prisons. The State’s database showed a match with the convict who had earlier confessed to the crime.

Conclusion: After Cotton’s attorneys received the DNA test results in May 1995, they contacted the district attorney, who joined the defense attorneys in the motion to dismiss the charges. On June 30, 1995, Cotton was officially cleared of all charges and released from prison. In July 1995, the governor of North Carolina officially pardoned Cotton, making him eligible for $5,000 compensation from the State. Cotton had served ten and one-half years of his sentence.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think Cotton’s wrongful conviction could have been prevented? In what stages of the investigation and trial? How?
  2. Do you think the use of DNA evidence can prevent wrongful conviction? Why or why not?
  3. Do you think Cotton should receive any monetary compensation from the state? Why or why not?
  4. If you are in favor of monetary compensation, what would be a reasonable amount of compensation?
  5. Does Cotton deserve any non-monetary compensation (e.g. formal apology from the victim who mistakenly identified him as the offender)?

This is the first in a series of posts that offers learning activities to accompany Contexts feature articles. This first post is designed to be used with Robert J. Sampson’s Winter 2008 article Rethinking Crime and Immigration,which can be read for free online.

This learning activity would ideally be used before the students read the article.

Take your best guess at the following questions regarding recent immigration to the United States:

1. True or False:  Immigration is associated with lower crime rates in most urban, disadvantaged neighborhoods.

2. Where are most recent immigrants in the U.S. originally from?  You can choose more than one.

a. The Middle East
b. Africa
c. Asia
d. Latin America

3. What percentage of the world’s immigrants come to the United States?

a. 40%
b. 25%
c. 10%
d. Less than 1%

4. What is the most common reason that people emigrate to the U.S.?

a. Employment
b. Escape persecution or harsh conditions (seeking refugee or asylum status)
c. To join a family member
d. Fleeing criminal charges

5. True or False:  Most immigrants come to the U.S. legally.

6. Where did most refugees who resettled in the U.S. come from in 2002?

a. Iran
b. Former Soviet Union
c. Afghanistan
d. Sudan
e. Vietnam

7. Immigrants made up ____ percent of the U.S. population in 2000?

a. 5
b. 11
c. 22
d. 29

8. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the total number of immigrants living in the U.S. was more than 31 million.  How many undocumented immigrants were living in the U.S. that same year (estimated)?

a. 7 million
b. 10 million
c. 15 million
d. 20 million

9.  In 2000, almost three quarters of immigrants settled in ___ states?

a. 4
b. 5
c. 6
d. 7

10. About what percent of recent immigrants do not speak English in the home?

a. 55
b. 65
c. 75
d. 85

Answers: 1) True, 2) C&D, 3) D, 4) C, 5) True, 6) B, 7) B, 8) A, 9) C (California, New York, Texas, Florida, New Jersey and Illinois), 10) D

Adapted from PBS Independent Television Series Immigration Myths and Realities Quiz. Detailed explanations of the answers are found there.

The handout posted here has a great in-class activity designed and used by sociology professor Ann Meier at the University of Minnesota. The activity encourages student to identify and categorize deviant acts (such as breaking a window) or deviant attributes (such as working as a prostitute) using the following scale:

Not deviant at all = 1
Not so deviant = 2
Neutral = 3
Somewhat deviant = 4
Very deviant = 5

Then, students are encouraged to discuss why they chose to label certain acts and attributes the way that they did. This exercise is a great way to get students thinking about sociological concepts of deviance, conformity, social control, folkways and mores, as well as crime… plus it can get them up out of their chairs!