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The Voice of the Black Community


Racial Justice Act rollback clears N.C. Senate
Lawmakers vote to gut 2009 law, resume executions
Published Thursday, April 4, 2013 7:47 am
by Taylor Shaw, Triangle Tribune

RALEIGH – Senate Bill 306 passed the North Carolina Senate on Wednesday, bringing  the state a step closer to restarting executions and repealing the Racial Justice Act.

“Republican legislators want to sweep aside evidence of racial bias and rush to execute people, some of who could be innocent,” Sen. Earline Parmon (D-Forsyth) said. “Other states are repealing the death penalty, but our Republican leadership is pushing to execute people even before all their legal claims have been heard.”

The General Assembly passed the Racial Justice Act in 2009, the only one of its kind in the nation. Its purpose was to determine whether race continues to be a “significant factor” in deciding which defendants are sentenced to death.

In 2012, Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks determined that race still plays a role in capital punishment.

Research done by the University of Michigan found that if a defendant is black and the victim is white, he is three times more likely to face the death penalty. Four cases were tried under the RJA. Weeks found evidence that qualified black jurors were systematically excluded from serving in capital trials across the state. More than 100 death row inmates have not had hearings on their claims.

Advocates say that racial bias is only one of the many factors that should make North Carolina cautious of executing 152 men and women on death row. Many of them were convicted before DNA testing and other modern tools of forensic analysis were commonly used. In many cases, key evidence has been lost or discarded.

Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation released a statement asking legislators to find solutions that prevent violence, address harms created by violence, help families heal and build safer communities.

“We cannot ignore clear evidence that racism still taints the death penalty,” said William Robinson, whose brother was murdered in Greenville, N.C., earlier this year. “Turning a blind eye to injustice does nothing to honor our lost family members.”

Five innocent men have been released from death row since 1999, and the innocent often spend decades in prison before their wrongful convictions are discovered.

Opponents of S.B. 306 believe the Racial Justice Act sends a strong message to prosecutors: When the decision is made to seek the death penalty, it should be free of racial bias and prejudice.

“We want to restore the integrity of the criminal justice system and make certain that our trials are fair, that our trials are free from that type of bias and prejudice,” Sen. Floyd McKissick (D-Durham) said.

Under the bill, doctors, nurses and pharmacists will be able to participate in executions without fear of punishment from state licensing boards; attorneys general will notify the Department of Public Safety when a condemned prisoner’s appeals are exhausted; and they must also keep the General Assembly up to date on the status of death row appeals.

No one has been executed in North Carolina since 2006.


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