Local News

Does the Death Penalty Cost More Than a Life Sentence?

Posted May 24, 2007 9:50 p.m. EDT
Updated May 24, 2007 11:32 p.m. EDT

— Does the death penalty cost the state more than a life sentence?

That’s a question state lawmakers want answered, and they're calling for a study before there's any movement to restart executions in North Carolina.

There's already a de facto moratorium on executions in North Carolina. Lawmakers are pushing various death penalty bills, but the only ones getting traction deal with fairness and cost, not stopping or starting lethal injection.

Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, said that studies from other states make it clear that “life without parole is a cheaper alternative.”

Court battles over the role of a doctor – state policy requires one to be present; the State Medical Board forbids participation – indicate no one will die in North Carolina's execution chamber anytime soon. The majority of lawmakers appear to be in no hurry to change that.

Death penalty bills that are moving seek to give a closer look to cases involving the poor and people of color, trying to ensure they're getting fair treatment at sentencing.

District attorneys like Jim Woodall, who covers Orange County, say they're caught in the middle as they prosecute murder cases.

It's politically safe for lawmakers to let the courts sort out the controversy. Ultimately, however, the final say falls on the General Assembly.

“We need to know what the legislative will of the state is,” Woodall said.

Rep. Joe Kiser, R-Lincoln, said he can understand why district attorneys are ill at ease.

“From one day to the next, we don't realize what's going to happen down here,” Kiser said.

Whatever happens, prosecutors want a decision on when and if executions will resume.

“Politically, now's not the time there's going to be an up or down vote,” Woodall said, “but I think we've got to get to that point sooner rather than later.”

Many lawmakers say they'd like to wait on the courts to clear up the controversy over lethal injection.

Cases are now pending in state and federal courts.