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Lethal injectionIn keeping with its practice of reversing progress and bucking national trends toward saner and more progressive public policies, the state Senate will take up a bill this morning to repeal the Racial Justice Act and jump-start executions. If the bill advances, however, it will do so over the objections of a group of more than 70 college and university professors who have delivered a letter to lawmakers spelling out the flaws in the legislation.

Meanwhile, one of the professors in the group — Appalachian State criminologist Matthew Robinson — authored an op-ed in the Winston-Salem Journal yesterday that does an excellent job of explaining why the proposed legislation is counterproductive. 

“As a professional criminologist who has written numerous articles and books on the factors that produce crimes like murder and how to prevent them, I am confident that the death penalty is a distraction from policies that actually work. So we should stop wasting our time “tinkering with the machinery of death” and get to the hard work of finally getting serious about instituting more effective crime prevention policies.”

You can read Robinson’s entire essay by clicking here.

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North Carolina hasn’t had an execution since 2006, and state Sen. Thom Goolsby wants to change that.

Goolsby, a Wilmington Republican, filed a bill today that seeks to repeal what’s left of the Racial Justice Act and restart executions in North Carolina.

state Sen. Thom Goolsby

state Sen. Thom Goolsby

North Carolina’s death row has 152 people on it, and the numbers of people sentenced to death has lessened in recent years. No one was sentenced to death by a North Carolina jury last year, though three people were in 2011. The longest resident of death row, Wayne Laws, has been awaiting execution since 1985.

Goolsby said at a press conference held Wednesday afternoon that the defacto moratorium the state had after a series of legal appeals needs to end.

“It is the law of our land,” Goolsby said.

Goolsby’s bill, Senate Bill 306, may not be able to immediately restart the execution process The Racial Justice Act, the first of its kind when it passed in 2009, initially intended to allow death row inmates to seek relief if racial bias existed in their case, by using statistics and anecdotal evidence. But that was weakened significantly in 2012, when the state legislature, at the urging of elected district attorney, curtailed the law by saying that the race of the victim could not be a factor and that racial statistics need to be restricted to the county or judicial district where the crime happened.

Nearly all of the 152 death row inmates filed appeals under the Racial Justice Act, and those appeals would still be able to proceed as part of those legal procedures, Goolsby said.

The North Carolina courts are also still reviewing the lethal-injection method of execution in the state, said Gerda Stein, a spokeswoman for the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, a Durham-based law group that represents death row inmates in appeals. The state’s appeals courts would need to make their rulings before executions can resume, she said.

Public sentiment is also not behind the death penalty, Stein said.

A poll conducted in early February by  Public Policy Polling found that 68 percent of North Carolinians favored repealing the death penalty as long as the offender is given lifetime sentence in prison without the chance of parole and had to work and pay restitution to victim’s families.

(Click here to see the PPP poll results.)

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Public News Service reports this morning on new polling that shows growing sentiments among North Carolinians to do away with the death penalty:

“North Carolina support ending the death penalty in the state, according to a poll released this week. Of the 600 people polled, 68 percent said they would rather the state replace capital punishment with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

According to Dustin Ingalls, assistant director of Public Policy Polling, the organization that conducted the poll, public opinion appears to be shifting.

“More and more, support for death penalty is decreasing, and that sort of falls in line with opposition on other social issues,” he said.

Support for abolishing the death penalty crosses party lines, according to the poll, with even a majority of conservative respondents in favor of ending capital punishment.”

Read the rest of the story and the poll results by clicking here.

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This is from the folks at People of Faith Against the Death Penalty:

Durham Calls for Death Penalty Repeal

DURHAM, NC – Durham is now the largest city in the South on record for repealing the death penalty.

At its meeting in City Hall this afternoon the Durham City Council unanimously passed a resolution presented by People of Faith Against the Death Penalty calling for North Carolina and the federal government and U.S. military to repeal the death penalty. The resolution suggests using the taxpayer funds that would be saved by repealing the death penalty to support programs to help murder victims’ family members and for programs to prevent violent crime. Read More

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Governor Perdue got some undeserved heat last month for suggesting the General Assembly was out to turn North Carolina into Mississippi. A glance at today’s news and events, however, seems to confirm once again that she was on the money.

From the good folks at Think Progress: “Mississippi set to execute most inmates since 1950’s”

From Raleigh’s News & Observer: “Racial Justice Act changes again in committee.”

From today’s NC House calendar: Senate Bill 416: A bill to amend death penalty procedures (i.e. a bill  to repeal the Racial Justice Act and generally make executions easier to obtain and carry out in North Carolina).