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Senate OKs veto override of death row law repeal

Posted January 3, 2012
Updated January 4, 2012

— The Senate voted along party lines Wednesday to override Gov. Beverly Perdue's veto of legislation that essentially repeals a law that gives death row inmates a path to challenge their sentences.

A potential standoff on the House override vote ended when Perdue appointed Republican Trudy Walend to the seat recently vacated by David Guice, a Republican who resigned to become chief of the state probation office.

House Speaker Thom Tillis had said the chamber would remain in session until Perdue made the appointment, as having an open seat would make it more difficult for House Republicans to obtain the 72 votes needed to override the veto.

Even with its full complement in the House, Republicans need to persuade at least four Democrats to join them in an override vote since a two-thirds majority is needed.

House Majority Leader Paul Stam said Republican leaders have been in touch with about eight House Democrats who they hope will change their votes from June, when the House approved the repeal along party lines.

The 2-year-old Racial Justice Act allows death row inmates to use statistical evidence to argue that racial discrimination was a significant factor in determining their sentences. A judge who agreed could reduce a death sentence to life in prison without parole.

Critics of the law maintain that it was too broadly written, noting that all but three of the 158 people on death row in North Carolina filed motions under the law, including a number of white inmates whose victims were white.

Before falling in a 31-19 vote, Democratic lawmakers argued Wednesday that the law is needed to ensure that the death penalty is handed down fairly.

Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, cited studies that show black defendants are more likely to be sentenced to death if their victims are white. Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, said prosecutors can also use statistics under the law to rebut inmate arguments, and judges can decide which side to believe.

But Sen. Don East, R-Surry, related an emotional story about the death of his father, a police officer killed in the line of duty. East said the killer's death sentence was vacated in the 1970s when the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the way most states handed down such sentences.

"The Racial Justice Act is not some veiled attempt to do away with the death penalty. It was an outright, blatant attempt to do away with the death penalty," East said.

Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover, called the Racial Justice Act "a whole new extreme of Monday morning quarterbacking." A defense attorney, Goolsby said processes are in place to ensure fairness in jury selection and criminal appeals.

"This is a farce," he said of the law.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said the law isn't the right tool to correct any suspected bias. The changes to the law included in the vetoed legislation would fix the problem, he said.

"Wrong tool for what may be a problem," said Berger, R-Rockingham.

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  • Commen Jan 5, 2012

    People are sentenced by their peers.
    If you really want to stop “prejudice behavior”, start with yourself and don’t kill anyone. However, a quick fix to “general prejudice behavior” is to remove all law enforcement officers from the general populous and let the lawless fight it out! The winners will be dealt with when they emerge from the rubble.

  • Bartmeister Jan 5, 2012

    Looks as if the House killed this for now. Still not convinced this is the best method to sift out the "potential prejudices". I still think there is too much potential for numbers and stats over a long period of time to skew individual cases.

  • Crumps Br0ther Jan 5, 2012

    The NC GOP has no desire to promote education and believes a good job is pressing a button a cotton loom 8 hours a day for $5.75 - cause the current minimum wage is just too high.

    Please cite your source on this. If you can actually prove this was said, I will vote to keep Bev in office. If not, thats some good hyperbole! 10/10!

  • WooHoo2You Jan 4, 2012

    Even more so, it's a shame in 2012 that the most qualified people aren't given jobs, whether they are black, white, or mexican... but rather jobs are handed out on a racial bias. NO black man should get a job if he is less qualified than another man.... NOR should a white man get a job if he is less qualified than another man. When we eliminate this prejudice practice... the country will be a better place. I am a victim of this practice just this past month....-I love Howard Stern

    I have heard that so many times HOWEVER I have never seen that backed up, sorry....

  • Mitt from Mexico Jan 4, 2012

    Just remember what Senate leader let your gas tax go up this year!

    Good night everybody!

  • WooHoo2You Jan 4, 2012

    The question is what is the Role of Govt in a Free Society.- Alex25

    Well tell people who to marry, if you can protest or not, what god kids should learn about in place of science, if you and your coworkers can form a group, etc. Wait, I don't like *your* idea of a government....

  • wral suks bauls Jan 4, 2012

    Even more so, it's a shame in 2012 that the most qualified people aren't given jobs, whether they are black, white, or mexican... but rather jobs are handed out on a racial bias. NO black man should get a job if he is less qualified than another man.... NOR should a white man get a job if he is less qualified than another man. When we eliminate this prejudice practice... the country will be a better place. I am a victim of this practice just this past month....

  • Maybe Next Time Michele Jan 4, 2012

    "Really? That must be why the GOP welcomed Cain into the presidential race, or why Michael Steele was the head of the RNC. Or why Bush appointed Condi Rice as Sec. of State. That must also be why Colonel West ran as a Conservative in Florida (and won).

    All of these people are black. But don't let that stop you from making ridiculous assertions."

    Too bad Michele Bachmann missed you. You could have wrote some of her most poignant speeches! The NC GOP has no desire to promote education and believes a good job is pressing a button a cotton loom 8 hours a day for $5.75 - cause the current minimum wage is just too high.

  • wral suks bauls Jan 4, 2012

    LOL @ the simple minds here. Because it should be allowed to appeal your death conviction simply based on race... not PROVING that there was racial bias in YOUR CASE?? How isnt that racial bias in itself? How could anyone be FOR that law??? REALLY??? Last time I checked, you normally only get the death penalty for killing someone anyway. Anyone that takes another humans life and is guilty SHOULD be put to death in my opinion.

  • Ripdcord Jan 4, 2012

    Every day this legislature on Jones Street takes us decade back on their agenda to promote jobs, jobs, jobs. Maybe they're thinking of all the wonderful jobs back on the plantation.

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