State News

N.C. GOP chair apologizes for pain caused by mailer

Posted October 22, 2010 6:50 a.m. EDT
Updated October 22, 2010 12:48 p.m. EDT

— The head of North Carolina's Republican Party apologized Thursday for any pain caused by a mailer criticizing the Racial Justice Act that was distributed in the district of a House Democrat whose daughter was murdered 25 years ago.

A mailer created by the Republican Party criticizes House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman's support of the Racial Justice Act and quotes press reports that the law could parole death row inmates.

Holliman issued a statement Wednesday protesting that capital punishment is a serious issue for him. His 16-year-old daughter, Suzi, was kidnapped and killed in 1985. Holliman witnessed the execution of her killer in 1998.

State GOP Chairman Tom Fetzer said he has spoken to Holliman since the mailer went out this week to Davidson County residents.

Fetzer said he didn't know that Holliman's daughter had been murdered and that. had he known, the mailer wouldn’t have been sent to voters in Holliman’s district.

Holliman has said the ad isn’t accurate, and he wants it retracted. He said he supports capital punishment but voted for the Racial Justice Act because he believes it will improve the criminal justice system.

The state NAACP sent a letter to Fetzer demanding that he apologize to all supporters of the law, saying the GOP flier is full or "lies and distortions."

"He rightly should apologize to Rep. Holliman's family, but he still has not apologized for the distortion," the Rev. William Barber, chairman of the state NAACP, said at a Friday morning news conference.

The mailer, which was also sent to households in two other districts, shows a man wearing a ski mask using a crow bar to break into a house. The flip side shows mug shots of a white and a black death row inmate and the words, “Thanks to Hugh Holliman, death row inmates could leave prison and move in next door.”

The flier cites a newspaper article stating that some death row prisoners could be paroled almost immediately if a judge rules in their favor. In another article, a Republican district attorney suggested that people sentenced to death before a new sentencing system took effect in the mid-1990s could be considered for parole after serving 20 years for their crimes if a judge changed their sentence.

"The mailer's obvious purpose is to get people to vote their fears, before any factual rebuttals and enlightenment might bring some reason into play in this important election," the NAACP letter to Fetzer said. "Your sloppy research, your not-so-subtle appeal to racial fears and your boorish behavior toward the Holliman family, who themselves suffered the great family tragedy of losing a daughter to a violent crime, are over-the-top."

The Racial Justice Act, which lawmakers passed last year, allows death sentences to be commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole if inmates can prove, with statistics and other evidence, that race played a role in their sentencing.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, said that there's no chance that a death row inmate would be released.

Nearly all of the 159 people on North Carolina’s death row filed motions seeking life in prison under the act before a one-year window closed in August. Republican lawmakers have said that the law will further delay justice for heinous crimes.