Gov. Bev Perdue has vetoed Senate Bill 416, the latest attempt by GOP leaders to repeal the state’s 2009 Racial Justice Act.
"It is simply unacceptable for racial prejudice to play a role in the imposition of the death penalty in North Carolina,” said Perdue in emailed veto statement.
It’s her first veto of 2012, and the second time she’s stopped a bill meant to undo the law.
The Racial Justice Act allows death row inmates to use statistics to try to convince a judge that racial bias played a role in their sentence. If the judge agrees, the condemned inmate’s sentence can be commuted to life without parole. Earlier this year, Judge Gregory Weeks agreed to commute convicted killer Marcus Robinson’s 1991 death sentence after finding by a preponderance of evidence that the state’s death penalty system is racially flawed.
"The judge’s findings should trouble everyone who is committed to a justice system based on fairness, integrity and equal protection under the law. Faced with these findings, the Republican majority in the General Assembly could have tried to strengthen our efforts to fix the flaws in our system," said Perdue in her statement.
"I just think the governor doesn't get it," said Sen. Buck Newton, R-Nash. "I just think she doesn't get it or the she's playing politics. Everybody is in agreement we don't want race to affect the outcome of a trial or a sentence. The latest version she has vetoed focused on the merits and problems in each case."
Republican critics of the legislation say it’s a practical moratorium on the death penalty, noting that 155 of the state’s death row inmates – the vast majority – have sought relief under the law, regardless of their race.
Lawmakers voted last year to repeal the act in Senate Bill 9 and Perdue vetoed the move. This year’s attempt was a less sweeping repeal, but opponents say it would still gut the law by making it nearly impossible for an inmate to prove bias.