In case you missed it, North Carolina is about to release yet another person who spent two decades in state prison for crimes he did not commit — thus further highlighting the absurdity of the death penalty in the 21st Century. This is from a post on the N.C. Innocence Project blog:

On Monday, a Superior Court judge in North Carolina dismissed all charges and vacated the convictions of Michael Parker who was convicted of multiple sex crimes against his three children. Parker spent more than 20 years behind bars and is expected to be released from Craggy Correctional Center today.

In January 1994, Parker was convicted of eight counts of first-degree sex offense and four counts of taking indecent liberties with a minor. He was sentenced to eight consecutive terms of life imprisonment for the first-degree sex offenses and an additional 40 years on the indecent liberties convictions.

Asheville attorney Sean Devereux brought the case to the Duke Law School Wrongful Conviction Clinic in 2011, about a decade after he was approached by Parker. Devereux told the Citizen-Times that Parker was convicted during the satanic ritual abuse frenzy of the late 1980s and early 1990s. According to the Citizen-Times, Devereux said that not a single one of those satanic ritual sexual abuse accusations has proven to be true. He said that all of the defendants have seen their convictions overturned.

According to the judge’s ruling, advances in child medical examinations and forensic interviewing techniques warranted granting Parker’s petition for relief and that most of the evidence presented at trial was unreliable. The motion also listed ineffective assistance of trial counsel and recantation of one of the children’s testimony, among other vital factors to grant relief.

Devereux said that last year Parker was offered a deal to plead guilty, which would have vacated his convictions and allowed him to leave prison based on time served, but Parker refused to take the deal.

Click here to read more details on the Asheville Citizen-Times website.

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Gay rights advocates rally at a recent Moral Monday demonstration.

Equality NC, same-sex couples and families delivered over 10,600 petitions to the Raleigh and regional offices of Governor Pat McCrory this morning, urging him to stop defending the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

“We are proud to deliver this important message alongside families from all across the state who are demanding Gov. McCrory not waste one taxpayer dollar defending what is now an unconstitutional and indefensible law,” said Chris Sgro, Equality NC’s executive director. “In doing so, we join them in asking that our elected officials not only stand with their constituents, but also help North Carolina stand on the right side of history.”

Last month, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper announced his office would no longer defend state laws banning same-sex marriage, after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban in Bostic v. Schaeffer.

As the News & Observer points out in Wednesday’s paper, the petition drive by the advocacy organization may press McCrory to discuss his own position on same-sex marriage:

McCrory had asked Cooper to request a stay of North Carolina’s case pending a higher appeal of the Virginia lawsuit, which is now on hold.

But his stance leaves unanswered questions, Equality NC suggests: Does McCrory still personally support the amendment after the Virginia ruling? And will he seek a special outside counsel to uphold the state’s ban now that Cooper won’t defend it?

The questions may hold implications for the 2016 governor’s race when Cooper is expected to challenge McCrory.

McCrory supported North Carolina’s constitutional ban on gay marriage when it was placed on the ballot in May of 2012.

Since then, polls have shown a growing acceptance of this issue with a majority of voters (nationwide and in North Carolina) supporting either marriage or civil unions for same-sex couple.

For more on where things stand in the courts on same-sex marriage, read this piece by Policy Watch’s Courts and Law reporter Sharon McCloskey.

There’s a great editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer this morning that ought to be mandatory reading for every critic of our public schools — especially the ones who want to de-fund them and turn their mission over to the the “genius of the free market.” The piece is entitled “Don’t take public education for granted.” Here are a few highlights:

In Wake County, the state’s largest school system, some 156,000 and counting students were back in school this week. And in what is a remarkable feat of derring-do, most things worked smoothly.

Teachers perform miracles, it’s true. But the running of such a system is a miracle in itself: Buses have to be scheduled, enough teachers hired and in the classroom by that first day, food bought and prepared, supplies stored, classrooms decorated, curricula designed and extracurriculars planned.

And this:

Teachers, we hope, will begin the year with adequate supplies, but it won’t be long before they’re off to Target to resupply out of their own pockets. More affluent schools will have fundraisers to cover the multitude of extras not in the school budget. Others will just do without.

At one Wake elementary school toward the end of the last school year, a teacher was overheard telling a principal her pencil sharpener was broken. “Do we have some money for that?” the teacher asked. “I’m sorry, no,” said the principal.

A miracle worker can’t get a pencil sharpener?

And, finally this:

Yes, our public schools have been much criticized, unfortunately of late by self-serving politicians who have actually used underpaid and overworked public school teachers as targets. But every day, from dawn until dark, custodians and principals and classroom teachers and coaches and cafeteria workers and bus drivers pull off the miracle, somehow, and then do it for another day and another and another.

Merlin and David Copperfield had nothing on them. Many a military leader aware of what public school people do would be happy to have them consult on logistics and battlefield strategy. It’s simply amazing, this institution called public education, and we forget that sometimes while we’re taking it for granted.

To which all a body can say in reply is “amen.”

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services announced this afternoon that an architect of a stalled Medicaid reform plan is leaving the state agency.

Margaret “Mardy” Peal, 43, was hired in August 2013 by Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos despite having been out of the work force for more than a decade, according to a News & Observer article published shortly after Peal’s hire.

The job was not posted, and was a newly created position to look at privatizing the state’s complex $13 billion Medicaid program, which is funded with a mix of state and federal dollars and provides health care for low-income children and their parents, seniors and disabled residents.

Peal, who has a master’s in health education and lectured at East Carolina University’s medical school on patient care in the late 1990s, had donated $1,250 to Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign, according to the N&O article. She also organized the Eastern North Carolina chapter of the Tea Party.

She made $95,000 a year in her DHHS position to help the agency develop a reform proposal for the state’s $13 billion Medicaid program. Peal’s hire last year came while Wos was facing criticism for giving big raises to several inexperienced McCrory campaign staffers.

The agency, at the urging of doctor and other medical provider groups, ultimately proposed parceling out Medicaid health care responsibilities to accountable care organizations (ACOs) around the state but the agency plan failed to get the backing of leading Senate Republicans who wanted to take Medicaid out from under DHHS and open it up to bids from managed care companies.

In a statement, state Medicaid Director Dr. Robin Cummings thanked Peal for her work and emphasized that the state agency planned on pursuing its approach to Medicaid reform.

“Working with doctors, hospitals and other healthcare providers and stakeholders across the state, DHHS will continue to pursue our Medicaid Reform plan,” Cummings said, according to a written statement.

In her Aug. 25 resignation letter (click here to read), Peal wrote that she was grateful for the experience working at DHHS but an unspecified opportunity in the private sector would allow her to spend more time with family.

“At this point in my family’s life, it is necessary that I spend a greater percentage of my time with them,” Peal wrote. “An opportunity presented itself that would allow me more time at home, and I have chose to pursue it.”

 

The battle over school vouchers in North Carolina is now before the state Supreme Court, thanks to an emergency motion filed late Monday by attorneys on behalf of Speaker Thom Tillis, Senate leader Phil Berger and parents to allow the taxpayer-funded vouchers, ruled unconstitutional by a Superior Court judge last week, to be disbursed to private schools immediately while the fate of the program is decided.

Plaintiffs challenging the school voucher program – parents, educators, community members and school boards represented by the N.C. Justice Center, the North Carolina Association of Educators, and the N.C. School Boards Association – filed a response Tuesday morning to the motion now before the state’s highest court.

“[The defendants] implore the Court to put millions of taxpayer dollars at risk by turning on the spigot of public funds almost a month before the SEAA’s long-planned disbursement schedule, nullifying a decision by a senior trial judge entered after months of discovery and consideration of hundreds of pages of evidence and briefs,” said the plaintiffs’ response. Read More