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Chorus of concern about death penalty grows louder

Posted August 23, 2010

Leaders of the state NAACP and a coalition of associated groups added their voices Monday to the chorus of concern about practices at the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation crime lab and their impact on those who are sentenced to death in the state.

Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the NAACP NAACP adds to calls for death penalty moratorium

An independent report issued last week found analysts at the lab omitted, overstated or falsely reported blood evidence in more than 200 cases between 1987 and 2003. The government-ordered report by two former FBI officials found that SBI agents repeatedly aided prosecutors in obtaining convictions, mostly by misrepresenting blood evidence and keeping critical notes from defense attorneys.

In a statement released Monday, the NAACP said, “For those of us who view the criminal justice system through the lens molded by the dark and gloomy past of legalized racial discrimination, the revelations of the Swecker Report are a disturbing reminder of the old times that are not forgotten.”

"We've had many persons released from death row, cases that had to be overturned because of bad prosecutorial activity, so we must plumb the depths of this problem," said Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP.

Joining the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on Monday were representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, Carolina Justice Policy Center, Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, North Carolina Coalition for a Moratorium, People of Faith Against the Death Penalty and Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

The coalition echoed the call by the Durham-based Center for Death Penalty Litigation for a halt to all future executions until a comprehensive review of the entire SBI can occur.

They called on Gov. Bev Perdue to commute all current death sentences to life, pending the results of "a complete and comprehensive audit and careful review of each case."

They also seek a review of the sentences of the 159 people currently on North Carolina’s death row and said they would consider pushing for a repeal of the death penalty in the state.

State Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, said the statements are nothing new for groups whose opposition to the death penalty is well-documented. He said of the call for a death penalty moratorium in the state, "That would be a particularly foolish response to the report."

Life in prison, Stam said, is a retirement plan for the criminal class. "You get three meals a day for the rest of your life, no retirement worries, no insurance worries, no medical care worries."

"I don't think we can execute anyone knowing what we know," said Lao Rubert of the Carolina Justice Policy Center.

"We have people who said they were innocent at the time they were executed. We will never know these things for certain, but we have an obligation to go back and look at every single case of every single person on death row," she said.

Jeremy Collins, of the Coalition for a Moratorium, went even further. "We must fully investigate cases of all North Carolinians executed since the crime lab was commenced to make sure no person was wrongfully executed," he said.

Stam said the outcry over the SBI report is a just another way to insert delay into a process that already has enough delays. 

He pointed out that the average death penalty case is reviewed multiple times and can take up to 15 years to result in execution. "These cases will be reviewed," he said.

North Carolina has been under a de facto moratorium since 2007 because of disputes over doctors' roles in executions and prisoners' concerns on how they are carried out.

In recent weeks, 147 of the 159 on death row have filed for relief under the state's Racial Justice Act, which allows defendants to to file a claim of racial bias in their death sentence.

The last man to die for his crime was Samuel R. Flippen, who was executed Aug. 18, 2006, for the murder of Britnie Nichole Hutton in Forsyth County.

Legal experts expect it to take at least a couple more years while those issues are resolved before the state can resume any executions.
 

153 Comments

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  • wildcat Aug 25, 2010

    LIFE IN PRISON WITHOUT PAROLE IS MUCH BETTER.

  • mgratk Aug 24, 2010

    OK, fine. Fresh trials for all the death row inmates. At the same time, while we revamp crime lab procedures and administration, lets revamp the laws to make more crimes punishable by death. Too many criminals do too many evil deeds. They end too many lives and deserve to get what they give.

  • John Sawtooth Aug 24, 2010

    @affirmativediversity Agreed blood evidence alone is not the entire case. Unfortunately the problem here is a systematic pattern of misfeasance, nonfeasance and malfeasance by the SBI in a degree of cooperation with prosecutors. This is the sort of thing that pollutes what was seen as years of professional work - in fact it was covered by years of...this sort of thing.

    I know what you mean, not throwing out the good with the bad. I am honestly rather surprised by my recent (temporary ?) change of opinion - I'm not sure what standard of behavior would lead me to trust the SBI again.

    Addressing questions like these (as well as other matters like overzealous prosecutors) is why I have supported a moratorium. I expect the moratorium will drag on a bit now.

  • wildcat Aug 24, 2010

    How soon should a person on death row lose their life through execution? Remember Blanche Taylor Moore has been sitting there for several years.

  • wildcat Aug 24, 2010

    This is why life in prison without parole would be a lot better. To find a person who have spent many years in prison and finally executed; but later proven to be innocent. You cannot bring the dead back when they die.

  • affirmativediversity Aug 24, 2010

    Mr. Sawtooth,

    Although I empathize with your sincerely espoused concerns the bottom line is,

    most murderers (especially those on death row) were not found guilty based solely on blood evidence. There is a great deal more to almost all murder investigations.

    Sorry, although I agree all cases should be reviewed...the second it is determined the case/verdict was not likely affected by the SBI lab then the sentence should be carried out.

    Think of the victims and their families who would never have justice if we "toss the baby out with the bath water". Think of some of the high profile murder cases of late, how many of them hinged on blood evidence alone?

  • John Sawtooth Aug 24, 2010

    Let me start by saying I am not a death penalty opponent. I am reluctantly in favor of it for certain offenses - not for 'closure', not for vengeance, not for deterrence. Some people cannot be trusted around other humans ever again; and I realize that immediately conflicts with insanity or mental disablilty (thus my reluctance in favor of it).

    However the SBI has so tainted cases that require the hightest standards of evidence care, judicial ethics, prosecution 'cleanliness' - that I am forced to doubt (sincerely) that they can be entrusted with the life of any accused murderer ever again.

    I don't say this lightly, glibly or without the most sincere and careful consideration. I think the SBI has destroyed the possibility of entrusting them with any capital murder case ever again. I really do.

  • affirmativediversity Aug 24, 2010

    A lot of you are missing the point of this article....ANY cases the SBI has had it's hands on should have a second look. The most important cases are those that could potentially cost an innocent person their life. per OGE

    -----------------

    Okay, I'll agree with that BUT

    once each case has been reviewed and its determined the VERDICT WAS NOT EFFECTED then IMPLEMENT THE SENTENCE IMMEDIATELY...with NO "RACIAL BIAS PANEL" or "BOGUS MEDICAL ASSOCIATION POLICIES" or "WHINING ABOUT HOW THE I V BEING CRUEL AND UNUSUAL"...and NO 20 YEAR APPEAL PROCESS!!!!!

  • OGE Aug 24, 2010

    A lot of you are missing the point of this article....ANY cases the SBI has had it's hands on should have a second look. The most important cases are those that could potentially cost an innocent person their life.

  • delilahk2000 Aug 24, 2010

    WHY DON'T WE JUST TURN EVERYTHING OVER TO THE ALL POWERFUL, AND KNOWING REV. BARBER, AND LET HIM JUST RUN IT ALL. HE SEEMS TO HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS AND EVERYONE ELSE IS STUPID. JUST GO AWAY.....

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