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Poll Shows People Evenly Split On Death-Penalty Moratorium

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina is set to execute its seventh inmate of the year. Unless clemency is granted, Robbie Lyons will die in two weeks for murdering a man.

A new poll shows support for capital punishment. But there is some hesitation.

Elon University asked people this week if they would support a two-year moratorium to study whether the death penalty was fairly applied. The results were pretty much evenly divided.

It has been an especially busy period for executions in North Carolina. The state had the highest number this year since 1949.

The majority of North Carolina residents support the death penalty. But the Elon poll shows there also is support for taking a break from it.

Forty-one percent of those surveyed supported a proposed two-year moratorium on carrying out the death penalty. Thirty-eight percent opposed the idea, while the rest were undecided.

This came in spite of the fact that 62 percent of those surveyed said they support the death penalty.

The poll is the 21st conducted by the Elon Institute for Politics and Public Affairs since it was established in September 2000. The non-partisan Elon Poll conducts frequent statewide scientific telephone polls on issues of importance to North Carolinians.

Ken Rose, director of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham, said he is encouraged the survey results are evenly divided.

"Everyone's concerned about innocent persons getting executed," Rose said.

A two-year moratorium on executions passed the Senate in 2003. Rose thinks the Elon survey results will pressure the House to do the same in 2004.

"The moratorium will pass the House," Rose said. "Gov. Easley will sign it."

Rep. Sam Ellis said he does not agree.

"I don't think it'll pass the House," Ellis said. "It wouldn't have last year, and I don't think anyone's going to change their mind now."

Ellis said the judicial system should be scrutinized.

"I can understand that people don't want to accidentally send someone to the death chamber," he said.

But Ellis believes a moratorium is not the answer, based on survey results on how people feel about the death penalty in general.

"Historically, North Carolina has shown strong support for the death penalty," he said.

Easley does not support a moratorium. But he is not talking publicly about it. He said it is unfair for him to do so because he oversees the clemency process.

The governor also is a former prosecutor, and he convicted two people who are on death row.

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