Update: Full transcript added.
During the weekly "Today's Professionals" panel discussion in the 9 a.m. ET hour of Thursday's NBC "Today," while on the subject of the execution of Troy Davis, attorney Star Jones used the opportunity to proclaim: "You're never going to see a rich, white man being put to death in the United States of America. That's not going to happen right now." [Audio available here]
The outburst was prompted when co-host and panel moderator Savannah Guthrie wondered: "Some people....think the system is rigged against the poor in our society, against African-Americans in particular, and I wonder what your view is of that?"
View video after the jump
Advertising executive Donnie Deutsch called out Jones for her statement: "Would you see a rich, white man that brutally premeditatedly killing a police officer? Is it that rich, white guys are much less prone to do violent crimes than poor African-Americans?...you've got to be careful of the race thing here."
Jones tried to explain her remarks: "I was very clear in what I said and I meant that. A rich, white man in the United States of America is going to hire the proper attorneys. And the proper jury consultants that they will not face the same situation as a poor minority." She then admitted: "It's less about race and more about access to resources."
In the 8 a.m. ET hour, news reader Natalie Morales touted analysis of the issue from celebrities on Twitter:
Last night's controversial execution of Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis unleashed an outpouring of celebrity outrage on Twitter. Rap mogul Diddy echoed Davis's last words by tweeting, "May God have mercy on their souls. Troy Davis, R.I.P.," rest in peace. A similar sentiment from Mia Farrow, who wrote, "To those who are about to take my life, may God have mercy on your souls." And actress/activist Rosario Dawson added, "There is too much doubt to kill Troy Davis."
Here is a full transcript of the September 22 discussion:
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Time now for another installment of "Today's Professionals," where we break down some of the hottest topics that have you talking. Star Jones is an attorney, author, and TV personality. Donnie Deutsch is chairman of the advertising agency Deutsch Incorporated. And Dr. Nancy Snyderman is NBC's chief medical editor. Good morning to all of you.
NANCY SNYDERMAN: Hi, Savannah.
STAR JONES: Good morning.
DONNIE DEUTSCH: Hey, Savannah.
GUTHRIE: Our first topic is very serious one. Troy Davis was executed last night in Georgia and this case has stirred a lot of controversy, of course, because over a long course of appeals there were many doubts raised as to the veracity of the eyewitness testimony that basically his conviction hung on. My first question to you is whether you think an injustice was done here?
STAR JONES: The problem is that the death penalty in the United States is arbitrary and capricious. All over the country, you can be in one state and get the death penalty and move to the next state, literally, across the street, and not get the death penalty for the exact same crime. That's the problem with it. Morally, I don't have an issue with whether or not we execute, but when it seems to be some element of doubt as to actual innocence – and there have been starts and stops in this case multiple, multiple times – that's when I have a problem with it.
GUTHRIE: Where do you come down on it, Donnie? I mean, setting aside the facts of this particular case, I mean, should we still have a death penalty in this country?
DONNIE DEUTSCH: Yeah. This case is obviously so sad because some of the witnesses recanted, so this case, I think, is tragic. Having said that, I'm very torn on the death penalty but I always say to people, there's a difference between ideology and reality. If I turn to Nancy and say, 'Are you for the death penalty?' And you say, 'No.' And I say, 'Well, what if somebody, God forbid, kidnapped and killed your child? Are you for the death penalty? Yes.' It's like waterboarding. Do I want to waterboard and torture people? No. Well, what if waterboarding would have saved your brother in 9/11? Yes. So I think it's a very personal thing. I am very torn on it but I think there's a difference between ideology and when it affects your own.
NANCY SNYDERMAN: I have a very good friend in San Francisco whose sister was abducted when she was pregnant, murdered, stuffed in somebody's trunk, then found, and the guy went to the – had the death penalty. She observed his execution. She said it brought her no closure.
JONES: It never would.
SNYDERMAN: And in that she thought she would be pro-death penalty and didn't. So my concern in this case, I guess, is more of just the average citizen. If people have changed their minds, we know eyewitnesses are typically wrong, there's a problem. I always worry when I see race as part of this, as a question of whether, you know, that played a role. And, as a physician, some doctor pushed a syringe last night. So if you go back to the Hippocratic Oath of "First do no harm," how does a doctor kill someone? And I don't know how to get over that.
GUTHRIE: Well, before we leave it, I want to go back to Star because this does raise a lot of issues. I mean, it should be pointed out that Troy Davis certainly did get his day in court.
JONES: Oh, absolutely.
GUTHRIE: In fact, these witnesses who later recanted, were heard in court by a judge who ultimately rejected their changed testimony. But, you know, some people think, well, that's because the system is fixed. You've worked in the system. They think the system is rigged against the poor in our society, against African-Americans in particular, and I wonder what your view is of that?
JONES: Savannah, you're never going to see a rich, white man being put to death in the United States of America. That's not going to happen right now.
DEUTSCH: Would you see a rich, white man that brutally premeditatedly killing a police officer? Is it that rich, white guys are much less prone to do violent crimes than poor African-Americans?
GUTHRIE: Scott Peterson is on California's death row.
JONES: But he wasn't a rich, white guy.
DEUTSCH: You've got to be careful – you've got to be careful of the race thing here.
JONES: I was very – I was very clear in what I said and I meant that. A rich, white man in the United States of America is going to hire the proper attorneys.
JONES: And the proper jury consultants that they will not face the same situation...
DEUTSCH: Different story. Correct.
JONES: ...as a poor minority. That's why I made the statement that I did. It's less about race and more about access to resources.
SNYDERMAN: Socio-economic challenges.