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Death Penalty Debate Moves To Governor's Mansion

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A legal first kept a convicted murderer off North Carolina's death row Friday.

A judge sentenced Armando Ortez to life in prison

after a jury could not agree on whether or not he was mentally retarded.

Under state law, convicted murders who are deemed mentally retarded -- with an IQ of 70 or below -- can not receive the death penalty.

But what about those already on death row? Should they be given IQ tests? Should they be taken off death row if they are found out to be retarded? Or should they not be executed even if they are not retarded?

People on both sides of the debate raised their signs and their voices Saturday, when more than 100 people gathered at the Governor's mansion to speak out against the death penalty.

"There is no one better off today because my brother's dead," Rose Clark said.

Clark's brother, Ernest Basden, was executed in 2002. She said there are too many flaws in the system, "the mentally ill being executed, and innocent people being executed."

Tom Fewel's daughter was murdered in 1985. He asked a jury to spare the killer's life.

"I'm here to le folks know that executions are not what murder victim families need," Fewel said.

Rev. Mark Yates serves on the board of the state's

Victim Assistance Network.

He supports the death penalty.

"It seems like when we push compassion for the guilty, that is an indictment on the innocent," Yates said.

Yates said that, although some victims' families are against the death penalty, it is unfair to all victims of violent crime to take it away.

"Tough enforcement for tough crimes," Yates said. "I just think it is going to be a slap in the fact of every law-abiding citizen here in North Carolina if we put a stop to the executions."

Nevertheless, Fewel and others who gathered Saturday said the death penalty must go -- that justice and tough punishment can come without death.

"I hope that Gov. Easley will pay attention to that," Fewel said.

Easley was out of town Saturday, so he did not see the protest. But he will have two more executions at Central Prison on his agenda this month.

Joseph Keel is scheduled to die next Friday. He has been on death row for more than 10 years for a murder in Edgecombe County. A week later, John Daniels is set to die for murdering his aunt back in 1990.

Lawyers for both defendants claim their clients' mental illness makes them unfit for the death penalty.


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