Death penalty bill passes committee

Posted March 26, 2013

The Senate Judiciary I Committee passed a bill Tuesday morning that its sponsor says would lift a de facto death penalty moratorium in North Carolina, in part by sweeping away the last remnants of the Racial Justice Act.

Committee Chairman Buck Newton called a for a show of hands, which appeared to show the measure passing along party lines, although he did not announce a final count of the vote. Senate Bill 306 now heads to the Senate floor for debate, most likely on Thursday. It would then go to the House. 

"This bill is not about whether our state should have a death penalty. We have it," said Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover, the bill's sponsor.

The Racial Justice Act was passed in 2009. It allows death row inmates to challenge their sentence, but not their convictions, by using statistical evidence of bias. Lawmakers pared back the act during the last legislative session, but pieces of the statute remain, and there are more than 100 appeals pending on the bill.

Goolsby's bill would wipe out any claims that haven't been heard in court.

Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, questioned how the state could give death row prisoners a right of appeal and then snatch it back.

"This is going to create a whole new wave of litigation and cost to the state," he said.

A staffer for the committee suggested the state wasn't taking away a right but merely doing away with a procedure that could be used to lessen someone's punishment. But the staffer acknowledged the issue would likely be challenged in court.

Other parts of the bill would require reports on death penalty cases to the General Assembly and require the attorney general to trigger executions when certain conditions were satisfied.

"I have had countless families tell me ... 'Mr. Frank, do we really have a death penalty anymore anyway?'" said Garry Frank, district attorney for Davie and Davidson counties. He was among a handful of speakers who urged passage of the bill, saying the current state of the law is punitive to the families of murder victims.

North Carolina hasn't executed anyone on death row since 2006. There are 152 inmates on death row. 

Duane Beck, pastor at Raleigh Mennonite Church, called on lawmakers to leave the law as it is. He described himself as a "conservative Christian" who opposes the death penalty as contrary to the teachings of Jesus.

"If you vote in favor of the death penalty, I would not want to be in your shoes when you meet the risen Lord on Judgment Day and he asks you why you voted against your faith," Beck said. 

Goolsby again emphasized that the bill would merely clear the way for death sentences to be carried out.

Sen. Earline Parmon, D-Forsyth, who helped argue to pass the Racial Justice Act in 2009, asked Goolsby to remove provisions dealing with the RJA from the bill.

"The RJA is not about the death penalty. It's about ensuring fairness in the courts," she said.

But Goolsby said the RJA had been used to delay the execution of people he described as "cold-blooded killers" and said that was a bad law.

"This de facto moratorium ... needs to be done away with," he said.


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  • rcrdngcountry Mar 27, 2013

    bring the death penalty back and carry it out. stop messing with
    cold blooded killers.

  • Lightfoot3 Mar 27, 2013

    "Regaurdless of what some one did, they should get a fair trail either way." - MonkeyFace

    Very true. However, the Racial Justice Act only has to do with the sentence, not the conviction. Instead of removing blacks from death row, I'd prefer to even it up by putting more whites there. Or better yet, put ALL true 1st degree murderers there by default. Though I would want to reform the court a bit so that actual evidence is needed, with no DA & judge misbehavior, for 1st degree murder convictions (i.e. no Brad Cooper kangaroo court scenes).

  • Lightfoot3 Mar 27, 2013

    "What will be different in NC if we have the death penalty?" - ljwhitmire

    Justice for its citizens. Murderers are effectively punished.

    "The facts are the death penalty costs a lot of money" - ljwhitmire

    Easily fixed by removing most of the silly appeals, and moderating the type of appeal allowed.

    "the death penalty has no positive effects" - ljwhitmire

    It serves up justice and if it were done frequently enough, and done right, it may deter more.

    "Is not having the death penalty really the biggest problem NC has?" - ljwhitmire

    Nope. But that's another issue, and irrelevant.

  • MonkeyFace Mar 27, 2013

    I'm confussed. What exactly did this bill have to do with the RJA again? Regaurdless of what some one did, they should get a fair trail either way. And making sure their race had nothing to do with the trial is just that, fair. Why do away with some thing that makes the convictions legit just to start enacting on their sentence. Yes, they have the right to appeal within a certain amount of time. If they don't win the appeal.. then bye bye. But everyone is entitled to a fair trial.

  • Tax Man Mar 26, 2013

    Yes, please get rid of the Rascist Justice Act in its entirety. All of these murderers had plenty of time to move their appeals forward and if they could not convince a court to reexamine their case we just need to move forward. And we need to get the executions back on track so we can clear up death row sooner rather than later. Lots of folks need to be executed for what they did! And new cases coming up should have quick executions by reducing the appeals time to no more than 6 months. Time to move forward and remove these murderers from society permanently.

  • ljwhitmire Mar 26, 2013

    What will be different in NC if we have the death penalty? Will the economy be better? Will the school system get better? Will child abuse stop?

    The facts are the death penalty costs a lot of money and doesn't produce any positive effects. Life in prison without parole is much less expensive. Any money used for death penalty cases aren't going to come from a magic money tree, it's going to come from programs which support needy children. It's going to come from programs to help prevent victims in the first place. It may even come from increased taxes!

    Regardless of whether support execution or not, the death penalty has no positive effects. What's the point? Purely for economic reasons alone we don't need or want it.

    Is not having the death penalty really the biggest problem NC has? I'd say our unemployment rate isn't going to be fixed either way. Once all of our other problems are solved, then maybe spend time and money on the death penalty.

  • Terkel Mar 26, 2013

    " if these 800+ people who have been EXONERATED had been put to death, as innocent people. Are we as a society any better than "a murderer"? I dare say not..." Whatev

    I get your point, but we would be better than a criminal who of his own volition, decides to murder another. The Commandment doesn't say "Thou shalt not punish". It doesn't even say "Thou shalt not kill." It translates as "Thou shalt not murder."

  • Terkel Mar 26, 2013

    " That's where our tax money is thrown away. I would guarantee if that happens a few time, one would consider it a deterrent."

    and you would be wrong." GU

    Proof of your statement, please. Oh, I know, that's your cue to go hysterically down some other path and never answer: how do you know the poster "would be" wrong?

  • Lightfoot3 Mar 26, 2013

    “It's called the death PENALTY... not the death deterrent.” – jackleg

    Good one!

    “we need to make sure all safeguards are in place PERIOD” – SouthernPackerFan


    “Please explain it to me.” – beachboater

    Don’t know if it’s REALLY more expensive than life in prison, but it’s costly because of the legal fees associated with all the silly appeals, some not even related to their guilt.

  • Whatev333 Mar 26, 2013

    I am a victim of terrible violence myself. I will never be the same and on some days, I struggle to survive mentally and emotionally. I also have moved on to live a happy life, AND it makes me angry my perps got away with it.

    They will never be brought to justice. I will never know the satisfaction of them being found guilty in a court of law and locked away for life. But I also know I am not God. God has a bigger plan for them. Fortunate for me, I know that in the bottom of my heart.

    So, what if YOUR SON, YOUR HUSBAND, YOUR BROTHER was wrongly convicted? I am sure plenty of people who would think your loved one was a murderer and should be put to death? Then you would want all the appeals in the world.

    Oh, but that could never happen to me... you say. Tell that to the 800 PLUS and COUNTING people that have been exonerated.