Bill seeks to put death penalty back on track

Posted March 13, 2013

— Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover, has filed a bill he said will end North Carolina's de facto moratorium on the death penalty. Among other measures, it would wipe away the last vestiges of the Racial Justice Act, a measure that allows death row inmates to challenge their sentences based on statistical evidence. 

"Despite have 152 inmates on death row, we have not conducted an execution since 2006," Goolsby said Wednesday. 

Lawmakers rolled back much of the Racial Justice Act last year, overriding a gubernatorial veto to do so. That repeal bill limited how statistical information can be used in such appeals. The new bill wipes the additional level of appeals for death row inmates away entirely. 

The measure also:

  • Codifies court rulings that allow doctors, nurses and other health professionals to participate in executions without sanction from the North Carolina Medical Board or other licensing bodies.
  • Outlines the time line the attorney general and Division of Adult Correction has to follow once an inmate has exhausted his or her appeals.
  • Provides ongoing training to execution teams.
  • Requires regular reports on the status of death row cases to the General Assembly.

It's unclear how much more quickly executions would happen if Goolsby's bill passes. Goolsby said it would remove remaining "impediments and roadblocks" to resuming the death penalty. 

"We just feel like these changes need to be made to allow these cases to move forward," Goolsby said. 

"Capital punishment in North Carolina currently faces several legal barriers that our lawyers are fighting in both state and federal courts. It remains the law of the land, and we will continue to do our duty to uphold it," said Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Roy Cooper.

She went on to say that the office gives notice to corrections officials once the final legal process is complete. But, she added, North Carolina’s method of execution is currently the subject of pending state and federal litigation regarding cruel and unusual punishment claims.

Goolsby's bill allows state officials to determine the best method of execution that would comply with constitutional requirements.

Still, other senators were not pleased to see it filed. 

"It's a step backward for North Carolina," said Sen. Earline Parmon, D-Forsyth. She said the Racial Justice Act was drafted merely to ensure that defendants were sentenced fairly. 

Asked whether the state should be working to begin executions again, she said "no," adding that she would prefer to see life in prison be the maximum sentence for a crime.

"It ensures the state doesn't make a mistake by executing someone who is innocent," she said. 

Families speak

Goolsby and other death penalty backers say its unfair to make victims family's wait to see justice carried out. 

During a news conference Wednesday, Goolsby was able to claim backing from both local district attorneys and families of murder victims who have seen their loved ones' killers removed from death row. 

Buncombe County District Attorney Ron Moore says a death row inmate from his county has exhausted his appeals and not pursued a Racial Justice Act claim. 

"He's ready to go and has been for five or six years," Moore said. "There's no impediment as we sit here today."

Families were even more emphatic about the need to move forward.

"This is my daughter," said Marsha Howell, holding up a picture of Evette Howell, who was 17 in 1992 when she was shot and killed. William Christopher Gregory was convicted of that crime and for shooting Evette's brother, Fonzie.

"The Racial Justice Act, it just held up a lot of stuff because the guy who shot my daughter was a black guy," said Howell. "My daughter was black. That's racial justice? No."

Goolsby acknowledged that his bill would do little to affect Gregory's case because it has already entered the RJA process. However, he said it would avoid hang-ups on future cases and could affect RJA cases that have not yet made it to a hearing.

The measure has the support of senior Senate leaders, including President Pro Tem Phil Berger.


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  • brassy Mar 15, 2013

    I've never understood why it takes 15 years of wasted tax dollars and court time to execute someone who has already been convicted. Flip the switch and be done with it.

  • CLM Mar 14, 2013

    If you murder without a dout you should face DEATH. They should not stay on death row for years only weeks after trail. If this was in place and people knew they would die for their crime you would see murder crimes decline. Life in prison is a vacation for some.

  • Plenty Coups Mar 14, 2013

    Ole Glory-"If we were to reform the death sentence and make it more of an inevitable reality I’m sure that opinion would "

    I agree with your post.

  • Glock07 Mar 14, 2013

    It is about time. Thank you.

  • Nancy Mar 14, 2013

    "and our government has killed innocent citizens with it."

    and yet, abortion is so strongly supported by those against the death penalty?

  • dollibug Mar 14, 2013

    *****we have a "moral obligation" to put these people to death.

    We also have a *MORAL OBLIGATION* for people to have *FAIR AND JUST TRIALS*....but that ain't taking place either****perhaps we need to IMPROVE the JUDICIAL PROCESS FIRST so that there are NO INNOCENT PEOPLE BEING INDICTED, TRIED AND CONVICTED FOR CRIMES THAT THEY ARE NOT GUILTY OF....and then when we know NO MISTAKES ARE BEING MADE....decide at this time. (DON'T THOUGH HOLD YOUR BREATH)

  • dollibug Mar 14, 2013

    Perhaps the lawmakers should make sure that INNOCENT PEOPLE do NOT get indicted, tried and convicted FIRST******take a look at all of the MISTAKES which have already been discovered*****and possibly many hundreds more....perhaps prosecutors and law enforcement need to be held *accountable and responsible* for their part in any and all *CORRUPTION AND COVER UP*....before putting *INNOCENT PEOPLE TO DEATH*....just saying.

  • Red Green Mar 14, 2013

    “There is no way anyone can make me believe that carrying out the death penalty is more expensive than a life of say 40 years or more in prison. I call BS on that one” driverkid3

    I’m sure there’s no way of someone convincing you that 2+2=4 either but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s more expensive at present date to carry out the death penalty. That being said I do believe in the death penalty in such cases that provide irrefutable evidence. Many would argue that the death sentence is not a deterrent and in its current form I agree. It’s nothing more than a paper tiger, prisoners effectively live out their days on death row only to die of old age. Big whoop, what a deterrent! If we were to reform the death sentence and make it more of an inevitable reality I’m sure that opinion would quickly change.

  • goldenosprey Mar 14, 2013

    "There is no way anyone can make me believe that carrying out the death penalty is more expensive than a life of say 40 years or more in prison. I call BS on that one. Just because you wish it was so does not mean it is." driverkid3

    WRONG! NC would save 11 million by getting rid of the death penalty. Do a little research before you post your suppositions. To use your phrase- Just because you wish it was so does not mean it is.


  • 426X3 Mar 14, 2013

    Do it!!!