A death penalty in decline

By Scott Mooneyham | Dec 23, 2013

RALEIGH — Death penalty opponents in North Carolina, citing a
national report, recently noted a continuing decline in executions
nationwide.

The report, from the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information
Center, showed a 10-percent decline in executions in 2013.

North Carolina has been a part of that national trend, with no one
executed here since 2006.

Opponents of the death penalty say the drop reflects declining public
support for the death penalty.

In North Carolina, though, executions have stopped primarily due to
court challenges, and not — as in some other states — by legislative
decisions reflecting public sentiment to abolish the death penalty.

The Republican-controlled legislature and the administration of Gov.
Pat McCrory, meanwhile, have been taking steps to resume executions in
North Carolina.

Legislators largely repealed a law called the Racial Justice Act that
allowed those sentenced to death to use statistics in racial bias
claims to challenge their sentences.

They also established the state Department of Public Safety as the
sole authority to determine drug protocols for lethal injection, an
issue that has been the focus of legal challenges halting executions.
In October, department Secretary Frank Perry signed an order approving
a new protocol, a move that could eventually clear the way for
executions to resume.

Legislative leaders would like to see that happen.

Earlier this year, in response to the repeal of the Racial Justice
Act, Senate leader Phil Berger remarked, "For nearly a decade, liberal
death penalty opponents have orchestrated legal challenges to impede
the law in North Carolina. Justice delayed in justice denied."

Death penalty opponents don't see the state taking a life as justice.
They see it as immoral, and see a justice system that allows it and
has wrongly convicted people of murder as flawed.

Death penalty supporters argue that the death penalty deters murder
and violent crime. In the most heinous cases, an argument is sometimes
made that the perpetrator essentially forfeits his or her humanness.

The gulf between those two views is pretty wide.

But in some ways, it has been bridged by laws passed in this state a
decade or so ago that provided prosecutors with more discretion in
seeking the death penalty and stopped the execution of the mentally
retarded.

Before the passage of those laws, the arbitrary nature of the death
penalty in North Carolina was obvious to anyone who would open their
eyes.

Sentencing a 19-year-old to death who had broken into a business and
bludgeoned a security guard with a heavy object found in the business,
while allowing someone who premeditated multiple murders to escape a
death sentence, is all anyone needs to see to understand that
capriciousness.

With the changes in place, the state has averaged less than three
death sentences a year, compared to more than two dozen in the 1990s.

Whether or not executions in North Carolina ever resume, everyone
should agree that we never need a return to a 1990s-style death
penalty where blind justice became injustice.

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