A state House judiciary committee voted 8-6 to stop executions while officials study the system, including the adequacy of counseling and possible discrimination in death penalty cases. The bill will now head to the full House for consideration.
Darryl Hunt and Alan Gell, two individuals who have been wrongly convicted, were in attendance in the hopes of making their voices heard. Gell spent five and a half years on death row and Hunt had been sentenced to life in prison, both wrongly convicted of crimes until new evidence set them free.
"The question that everyone has to ask themselves in their minds is a moral question. It is a question of do we fix it or do we not fix it," Gell said.
One year later, their cases still place lawmakers on opposite sides of the death penalty debate.
"The system worked," said Nelson Dollar, a member of the House of Representatives. "In those cases, the judicial review worked. Those individuals were exonerated or allowed to have another trial."
But Jennifer Weiss, a member of the state House of Representatives, said Hunt and Gell are proof the system is broken and needs to be fixed.
"It was not because of the system working," said Weiss, of Cary. "It was because of folks doing a lot of research to get the facts out that they were exonerated."
Weiss is among those who want a moratorium on executions while the state studies the fairness of the system.
"It's important because a number of innocent people have been convicted and there's a risk that innocent people could be put to death," she said.
Opponents do not dispute there are problems. Many do not mind a study, but they do not think the state needs to stop executing prisoners in the meantime.
"We have cold, stone killers who have murdered people in a very brutal and premeditated fashion in the state of North Carolina," Dollar said. "I see no reason to hold up their justice being granted in those cases."
Some opponents also question the motive behind the push. They say they fear the ultimate goal is to repeal the state's death penalty entirely.
Twelve states do not have a death penalty. Of the 38 that do, North Carolina ranks seventh in the number of executions carried out since 1976 with 36. Texas ranks first with 344 executions.
There are 175 inmates sitting on death row in North Carolina. Only four of them are women.
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