RALEIGH, N.C. — Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby and others debated both sides of the death penalty at a forum in Cary Tuesday night.
There are 166 inmates on Death Row in North Carolina, but recent rulings have brought executions to a standstill. At an event hosted by the Western Wake Democratic Club, people close to the subject shared their thoughts on capital punishment, sometimes telling intensely personal stories.
"I'm here as a victims advocate. I am the brother of a homicide victim,” said panelist Wayne Uber.
Others, like Willoughby, said they carry the weight of the people with their every move.
"If folks are opposed to capital punishment, we ought to ask the legislature to stop it,” he said. “We ought not to take one particular group to give us an ethical opinion that it's wrong."
What Willoughby referred to was a January decision by North Carolina's medical board to adopt a policy that declares it unethical for a physician to participate in executions. That was one point that panelist Dr. Robert Bilbro said he disagrees with.
"It's unethical for doctors to intentionally do harm to their patients,” Bilbro said.
The medical board’s ruling led to a Wake County judge to halt several planned executions. State officials would need to adopt a new protocol to get around the policy. Death penalty supporters argue the legislation limbo is a burden for victims’ families.
"They are just emotionally drained,” said Mel Chilton, a member of a victims’ support group. “It is something that they've been going through for more than 10 years."
But that’s a point that some feel shouldn't affect state policy.
"Most observers say it's a brutalizing effect,” said anti-death penalty advocate Jim French. “The message the death penalty gives is that life is cheap. To some degree, some lives don't mean as much."