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DeanSmithI didn’t attend UNC and had only lived in North Carolina for a year when Coach Dean Smith won his final NCAA championship in 1993. I do have two daughters who are both Chapel Hill grads, but save for that and my admiration/appreciation for the school, any connections to Coach Smith that I have ever enjoyed have been, to say the least, extremely attenuated. Indeed, for my college basketball coaching hero — the late, great John Robert Wooden — Smith was an up and coming rival back in the day.

It is therefore, above all, a sense of gratitude that I feel today to the troubled, if unwitting, souls at the Pope-Civitas Institute for producing a list in recent weeks — the so-called “Map of the Left” — that would include us both. What a gift that they actually got the darned thing out before Coach Smith passed.

Indeed, the more I think about it, the more I am struck by what a great gift the Pope-Civitas people have given to the hundreds of caring and thinking folks who were named. From now on, all of us will always be able to proudly wear the badge of honor of having been associated with such a great man.

And as David Zirin of The Nation (among many others), explained this morning, there were loads of great reasons that Smith was included on the “map” — especially his passionate opposition to racism in all of its ugly manifestations (most notably the death penalty). Even if the silly Civitasers want to think of it as a “vast and shadowy network,” the so-called “map” is, for the most part, a list of people and organizations dedicated to truth, love, sunlight and modernity — i.e. the same things Smith fought for throughout his admirable life.

RIP Coach Smith. All members of the progressive cause in our state are honored to have had such a marvelous teammate.

Commentary

Death penaltyToday’s exoneration of Joseph Sledge after 36 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit gives rise to one overriding question today:

How many more men wrongfully convicted and imprisoned (or even sent to Death Row) is it going to take before the stubborn defenders of the death penalty in North Carolina finally admit that it is simply impossible to impose such a punishment in a fair and foolproof way?

Unless one simply goes along with the mind-boggling and terrifying position of Antonin Scalia that there is nothing wrong or unconstitutional  with executing a person “who had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a court that he is ‘actually’ innocent,” any honest person must simply admit that the time has finally come to end the death penalty once and for all.

Commentary

It’s tragically absurd that people have been forced to resort to this, but the family, friends and advocates helping Texas death row inmate Scott Panetti have launched a petition drive to help promote his effort to gain clemency.

The following description of Mr. Panetti’s situation comes from the good folks at the Texas Defender Service:

Scott Panetti was honorably discharged from the Navy at the age of 18. Eighteen months later, he was diagnosed with “early schizophrenia.”

Scott Panetti has suffered from severe mental illness for over 30 years. It first manifested itself at least a decade Scott Panettibefore the crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death in Texas. His severe mental illness has infected every stage of his capital case and although Mr. Panetti continues to be severely mentally ill, Texas now plans to execute Mr. Panetti on December 3, 2014.

This is the enduring image of Mr. Panetti’s case: a paranoid schizophrenic wearing a TV-Western cowboy costume; on trial for his life, insisting on defending himself without counsel; attempting to subpoena the Pope, John F. Kennedy, and Jesus Christ; and raising an insanity defense. Mr. Panetti’s pro se performance was an abomination and his trial was a mockery of the criminal justice system. Read More

Commentary

You know something’s dreadfully wrong with your system of criminal justice when the full exoneration of innocent men convicted of heinous crimes keeps happening over and over. Another one occurred in North Carolina today when Willie Womble — a man who has spent 39 of his 60 years on the planet incarcerated for a crime he did not commit — was cleared of a crime that occurred in 1975.

Good lord! How do the still-living people who had a role in such a miscarriage of justice sleep at night?

Obviously, there’s no getting Mr. Womble back his life that the people of North Carolina and their officers and employees wrongfully and tragically stole, but here are a few things that Gov. McCrory ought to consider doing immediately:

1) Ordering the immediate commutation of all death sentences in the state to life in prison,

2) Taking whatever steps are necessary to provide for a dramatic increase in the budget and staffing of the Innocence Inquiry Commission (and maybe the private nonprofit known as the NC Center on Actual Innocence as well) along with the directive that it (they) undertake a review of a vastly larger number of the state’s existing murder convictions — if not all of them, and

3) Announcing that he will no longer approve of any new death sentences in the state until — at a minimum — a complete and full review of every such case has occurred.

Commentary

We’ll take good news where we can find it these days and this one from yesterday’s Raleigh News & Observer certainly seems worth celebrating.

Conservative anti-death penalty group active in NC

A North Carolina chapter of a national network of conservatives that wants to put the brakes on — if not outright abolish — the death penalty has become active this year.

A number of prominent Republicans have joined N.C. Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty: Les Merritt, the former state auditor; Ernie Pearson, a former assistant commerce secretary; David Robinson, once the Wake County GOP chairman; Marshall Hurley, former state Republican Party general counsel; Steve Monks, former Durham County GOP chairman; Mark Edwards, the Nash County GOP chairman; and Gerald Galloway, retired police chief in Southern Pines….

The conservative group takes its position based on their belief that the death penalty doesn’t jibe with the small-government philosophy. They also say mistaken convictions, the emotional impact on victims’ families and their pro-life stance are among the reasons people have become members.

Hyden worked for the National Rifle Association and ran a congressional campaign in western North Carolina. The other national coordinator is Heather Beaudoin, who worked for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Meanwhile, in case you had any doubts about how North Carolina was saved from executing an innocent man by dumb luck, read Fannie Flono’s column in this morning’s Charlotte Observer, “The death penalty, luck and innocence.” As Flono notes:

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