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Amid corporate career, Merck CEO exonerated man on death row

Merck CEO Ken Frazier made waves Monday morning when he resigned from the president's American Manufacturing Council, citing a "responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism."

It's not the first time Frazier had taken a stand. Two decades ago, he led a team of volunteer lawyers who exonerated a wrongly accused Alabama man from death row after 19 years.

Frazier has since spoken out about capital punishment, writing in 2004 that the experience showed him "firsthand why there can be no fair and consistent application of the death penalty under the current system."

His move Monday is clearly different. It's in the context of his leadership as one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies. It came after President Donald Trump was seen to equivocate about the violent protest by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend that killed a 32-year-old woman and injured 19 other people.

But the move also comes from a leader in an industry that's been hesitant to step into the crosshairs of Trump, who used high drug prices as a campaign issue and accused the industry of "getting away with murder."

Frazier, the only African-American CEO of a major pharmaceutical company, said he made his decision both as CEO of Merck and "as a matter of personal conscience."

"Our country's strength stems from its diversity and the contributions made by men and women of different faiths, races, sexual orientations and political beliefs," Frazier said in a statement Merck posted on Twitter. "America's leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal."

Trump responded swiftly on the same medium. In a tweet an hour later, he said: "Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President's Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!"

While political tweets have taken chunks out of drug industry valuations in the past, they didn't do so Monday; the IBB, the ETF that tracks the Nasdaq biotechnology index, was up more than 1 percent, along with the rest of the market. Merck's stock was up nearly 1 percent.

Frazier was the only CEO on the manufacturing council to leave it Monday morning after the...