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Willie WombleHow many times is a North Carolinian previously convicted of murder going to have to be found to be innocent before it’s universally acknowledged that the death penalty is a hopeless relic of a bygone age?

Let’s hope today’s unanimous recommendation by the state Innocence Inquiry Commission that Willie Henderson Womble was wrongfully convicted 38 years ago for a murder in Granville County adds more fuel to the fire. The decision provides more powerful evidence that our justice system remains hugely flawed and that it is simply impossible to guarantee that our state does not commit the most heinous of all imaginable acts by a government — i.e. the execution of an innocent human being.

And while it’s obviously true that Mr. Womble did not receive the death penalty, it’s also clear that he has been forced to endure something just short of it with the loss of 38 years of freedom. Moreover, as Mr. Womble’s case also makes clear, there’s every reason to believe that numerous innocent humans have been executed in all of our names down though the decades.

The bottom line: Womble’s case once again highlights a deplorable reality that must be brought to an end and set right as soon as possible.

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Count_the_Reasons-768x1024(Cross-posted from the North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty)

By Kristen Collins

Some of N.C.’s legislators say it’s time to restart executions here, after a nearly eight-year hiatus. Do they know what they’re suggesting? North Carolina has one of the largest death rows in the nation with more than 150 people. Turning the faucet back on could trigger a Texas-style surge in executions. This is the solution at a time when there is a nationwide shortage of execution drugs, leading to disasters like the one in Oklahoma? After the SBI admitted manufacturing evidence in murder trials? After a judge found widespread racial bias in N.C.’s capital punishment system? After the many high-profile exonerations we’ve seen? Maybe these legislators missed all this news. So, here is a primer — eight reasons why the rational and fair-minded citizens of North Carolina are looking for alternatives to the death penalty:

1. Innocent people will die

Maybe you think that, if you don’t kill anyone, you don’t have to worry about the death penalty. You would be wrong. A new study estimates that 1 in 25 people sentenced to death are innocent–and many of them will never be able to prove it. In N.C., seven innocent people have been released from death row. All told, exonerated men have served 50 years on death row here. And those are just the ones we know about. Others will never get a chance to prove their innocence because crucial evidence in their cases has been lost or destroyed. (The evidence of Joseph Sledge’s innocence was stuffed in a locker and lost for three decades before his attorneys finally dug it out.)

2. Killing people is not as easy as it sounds

Just ask Oklahoma.  Their attempt at lethal injection had to be aborted, and the condemned man died of a heart attack after 43 minutes of suffering. Lethal injection was supposed to be the clean, humane solution to killing inmates–but it’s getting messier all the time. Drug manufacturers are refusing to sell their drugs for executions. States are resorting to experimental drug combinations and using sources so questionable that they are trying to make the identities of their suppliers “state secrets.” The result: botched executions and lawsuits. Does North Carolina want to join this macabre circus? Or would we prefer to return to older methods? Boiling people to death, maybe?
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Mark Edwards, the chair of the Nash County Republican Party penned the following letter to Raleigh’s News & Observer yesterday. You can view it on the paper’s website by clicking here.

Your May 1 editorial “A shameful execution” highlights the reasons why we should replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole.

As a conservative Republican, I strongly support the government’s duty to maintain law and order. However, as the distinguished columnist George Will once said, “Conservatives, especially, should draw this lesson: Capital punishment, like the rest of the criminal justice system, is a government program, so skepticism is in order.” The botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma graphically illustrates Will’s point. Read More

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090309-1854-memotodeath1.jpgThe recent disastrously botched execution of inmate Clayton Lockett  in Oklahoma has caused some people who closely follow such grisly matters to compare and contrast the situation there to the one here in North Carolina. As Kristen Collins wrote yesterday on the  blog maintained by the N.C. Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, North Carolina could indeed turn out to be the next Oklahoma:

“Maybe you have heard by now about the horribly botched execution in Oklahoma this week?

That inmate’s protracted, painful death, and the national firestorm that has erupted in its wake, provide a preview of what could happen in North Carolina if its current execution protocol is ever put into practice.

The Oklahoma execution was carried out using an untested combination of drugs whose source was kept secret. The execution was scheduled, despite a legal challenge over this secrecy, only after the Supreme Court changed its mind due to political pressure. (Do those highly politicized Supreme Court elections sound familiar?)

North Carolina recently created a new execution protocol that would allow our state to stumble into all the same pitfalls: Read More

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ICYMI, the Sunday Wilmington Star News argues forcefully that a speedy resumption of executions in North Carolina (as is urged by their hometown Senator, Thom Goolsby) makes no sense at all.

“Polls show that most Americans still support selective use of the death penalty. To many, the “eye for an eye” approach is just punishment for those who commit murder and leave victims’ families to forever grieve. About 60 percent of respondents in an October Gallup poll said they support capital punishment, compared with 35 percent opposed. But that support was the lowest in 40 years. A poll of North Carolinians by the liberal, Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling found that 70 percent of residents oppose the death penalty if life without parole is an option.

Regardless of whether they support capital punishment in principle, many Americans have trouble accepting that the possible execution of an innocent person is a necessary by-product of the justice system.”

What the paper might have also noted is that since executions were halted almost eight years ago, North Carolina has seen a significant drop in its murder rate. So much for the tired old “deterrence” argument (as if the people troubled enough to commit murders rationally contemplate their potential punishments before acting).

You can read the entire editorial by clicking here.