RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Beverly Perdue met Monday with relatives of murder victims, victims of violent crimes and others as she weighed a bill on her desk for two weeks that would essentially repeal a 2009 law designed to address alleged racial bias in death penalty cases.
The Democratic governor spoke at the old Capitol building with two groups of victims – one urging her in the morning to veto the bill approved by the Republican-led legislature in late November and a second in the afternoon asking her to make it law.
She has until Dec. 29 to either sign Senate Bill 9, let it become law without her signature or veto it.
Senate Bill 9 would scrap key provisions of the Racial Justice Act. The 2009 law allows death row inmates to use statistics in a new type of court hearing to argue that racial bias played a role in their sentences.
Several studies have found bias in North Carolina's system. One study found that qualified black jurors are twice as likely to be excluded from a jury as white jurors, while a second found that people charged with murdering white victims are 2.5 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those whose victims are black.
Such statistics are troubling to Joslin Simms, whose son, Ray, was murdered in Durham in 2005.
"We want everything equal. No matter what race they are, (we want) to have everyone be treated like they're the same," Simms said. "My son's life is just as good as anyone else's. It was worth living."
Two weeks ago, other victims' families came to Raleigh to tell lawmakers to repeal the Racial Justice Act, which they said stands in the way of justice for their loved ones.
Therese Bartholomew, whose brother was murdered in 2003, said she understands the pain and grief of those families.
"The thought that the (justice) system is not set up fairly does not help me sleep at night in any way. It doesn't make me feel better, and it will not bring my brother back," Bartholomew said.
Lawmakers who voted for the repeal said that statistics shouldn't be allowed to override the will of a jury in an individual case.
All but three of the 160 or so death row inmates have filed appeals under the law, including white defendants whose victims were white.