Local News

NAACP against death-penalty bill change

Posted May 28, 2009 10:50 p.m. EDT
Updated September 9, 2009 6:55 a.m. EDT

— The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is taking a stand against changes by the state Senate to a bill designed to prevent racial bias in the death penalty.

The Racial Justice Act would allow a death row inmate to appeal his conviction if race played a role during trial. Two weeks ago, the bill cleared the chamber with an amendment that would restart executions by allowing doctors and nurses to be present. The change would remove a legal obstacle that has halted executions for two years.

The NAACP and other religious groups oppose this addition to the bill.

“I am opposed to the Racial Justice Act," said Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger.

Berger, who added the amendment to the bill, said he did so because the act places "another potential hurdle from carrying out death sentences and gives defendants a second bite at the apple.”

Rev. William Barber, with the state chapter of the NAACP, disagrees with Berger. He and others began pushing for the Racial Justice Act after three black inmates, who sat on death row for a combined total of 40 years, were exonerated.

They say the intention of the act is to give defendants in capital murder cases the right to challenge their prosecution on racial bias grounds. However, Barber says state legislators have now changed the original purpose of the bill.

"Ultra conservatives and others used it as a pretext for restarting the death penalty, rather than staying focused on the real issue, which is racial justice," Barber said.

Supporters of the death penalty say, even with the changes, the bill will create another loophole for defendants to slow cases.

"It's intended to halt the system. It will make capital punishment unenforceable,” said Wayne Uber, a death penalty supporter.

Uber, a Chapel Hill resident, has personal reasons for supporting the death penalty. His twin brother, Jeffrey, was murdered in Florida.

"I do something everyday to honor my brother's memory,” he said.

Uber said he believes cases with racial bias should be appealed. But he also thinks current legal wrangling on the issue hurts victims' families.

"The main thing behind a lot of that frustration is just fear,” Uber said.

Barber said he plans to keep fighting for the bill to be passed without the amendment, and insists race is a factor.

"In North Carolina and throughout the South, we have killed innocent black men and have placed black men on death row because of their race, or because of the race of the victim,” Barber said.

The bill will go before another committee of state legislators Wednesday.