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In case you missed it in the holiday hubbub, be sure to check out the fine Progressive Voices essay that death penalty lawyer Ken Rose authored for NC Policy Watch last month: “New data from 2015: Death penalty increasingly a part of NC’s history, not its future.” As Rose pointed out, one of the happiest developments of 2015 is that the death penalty is clearly on the way out:

“People on all sides are realizing that capital punishment is wasteful and ineffective. In the past few months, a former death penalty prosecutor who sent five people to death row and a Republican state legislator have taken public stands against the death penalty.

North Carolina is in step with the nation. We are now among a majority of states that have abandoned the death penalty, either in law or in practice. Across the United States, new death sentences and executions reached historic lows this year. Just six states carried out executions, and many were horribly botched. Even Texas sentenced only two people to death in 2015.”

Rose’s on-the-money observations have been bolstered in recent days as two of the state’s major newspapers have editorialized in favor of abolition.

On January 2, an editorial in the Fayetteville Observer put it this way:

“The current moratorium is the result of problems finding physicians to supervise executions and the reluctance of drug companies to provide the lethal cocktails that are injected. Some state lawmakers have introduced legislation to sidestep those concerns, but they’re having a hard time evading the Constitution’s prohibition of ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’ It’s a legal morass that even death-penalty proponents call a ‘Gordian knot.’ Unraveling it has been an elusive quest and we don’t see any solutions on a near horizon.

Better, we think, to just walk away from it. An execution may be satisfying revenge, but it’s no deterrent. Lifelong incarceration in one of our godforsaken prisons is more effective punishment – and also cheaper and reversible in case of error.

Since we’re on that course anyway, let’s stick to it.”

And this is the conclusion from an editorial in yesterday’s Wilmington Star News:

“In executing our own citizens, we align ourselves with such human rights violators as Iran, Saudi Arabia and China. Russia and most African nations do not have capital punishment.

Polls show that a majority of Americans still support the death penalty, but when offered a choice between death and life without parole, support decreases.

It is time for North Carolina to get out of the business of executing people.”

In short, it looks like the page on this vexing issue may finally be turning and for this we should all be thankful. As the horrific mass executions in Saudi Arabia this week remind us, our state and nation cannot get on the right side of this issue fast enough.

Commentary

We may not be quite there yet, but this new post by Kristin Collins of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation (which originally appeared on the blog of the Center for Alternatives to the Death Penalty) does a great job of explaining how thoroughly dysfunctional the nation’s various death machinery systems have become.

090309-1854-memotodeath1.jpgU.S. executions grind to a halt as lethal injection stumbles
By Kristin Collins

The death penalty has been on the decline in the U.S. for more than a decade, but right now, capital punishment is imploding rather spectacularly in almost every state in the nation.

States are scrambling for lethal drugs, importing them from illegal foreign sources, and passing laws to keep their sources secret. Several executions have been called off with minutes or hours to spare because of faulty drugs. The handful of states still attempting to execute inmates, often with untested drug combinations, have created a spectacle of torturous botched executions.

Here is just a sampling of recent headlines:

Oklahoma, just months after the bloody and horrifying 45-minute execution of Clayton Lockett, accidentally executed a prisoner using the wrong drug. The error was discovered minutes before a second man was set to be executed with the same unapproved drug combination. Executions are now on hold indefinitely.

Arizona and Texas attempted to illegally import lethal drugs from India, only to have federal agents seize the drugs at the airport.

Ohio — after passing laws to keep the sources of its drugs secret, and failed attempts to obtain drugs from unregulated compounding pharmacies and illegal foreign sources — gave up and put executions on hold until 2017, saying it simply could not find the drugs it needed. Executions are now stalled in several states because of drug shortages.

Utah has again legalized the firing squad, to be used if the state is unable to find drugs for lethal injection.

Executions are now on hold in 16 states, including North Carolina, due to problems with lethal injection. They outnumber the small handful of states that still have a functioning death penalty. Read More

Commentary, News

A day after conservatives delivered a letter calling on Gov. McCrory to veto legislation that would jump start executions in North Carolina and shroud them in secrecy, a coalition of human rights groups has spoken up as well.

RALEIGH – A coalition of human rights groups is urging Gov. Pat McCrory to veto a bill that would hide the source of lethal injection drugs used to execute prisoners on death row and remove the requirement that a qualified physician be present at all executions.

The groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, the Carolina Justice Policy Center, the N.C. Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, and the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, argue that HB 774 is a dangerous proposal that would make executions more secretive, increase the risk of botched executions, and ensure continued legal challenges to the death penalty in North Carolina.

“Less than a year after other states have botched executions as a result of using experimental drugs obtained in secret, it would be foolhardy for North Carolina to go down the same road,” said Sarah Preston, acting executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “This bill would increase the likelihood of a botched execution in North Carolina, hide basic information about executions from public access, and needlessly waste taxpayer dollars on the inevitable lawsuits that will follow. Governor McCrory should take a stand for transparency and accountability and veto this bill without delay.” Read More

Commentary

The following statement was released this afternoon by the group NC Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty:

NC Conservatives Concerned Urges Governor McCrory to Veto Bill Eliminating Transparency in Executions

For Immediate Release
August 4, 2015

Contact: Ballard Everett
(919) 272-0297

North Carolina Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty (NC CCADP) urges Governor Pat McCrory to veto House Bill 774 “Restoring Proper Justice Act,” legislation aimed at taking transparency out of the way in which our state executes individuals.

“This legislation is bad policy for North Carolina. Conducting executions is the most extreme expression of the state’s power and should be done in an open and transparent process,” said Ballard Everett, coordinator for NC CCADP. “Making secret the way in which our state obtains the drugs needed and conducts executions practically guarantees that NC will join states around the country that have seen horribly botched executions.”

“Even the bill’s sponsors have admitted passage of H774 would invite more costly litigation,” said Everett. “Why then are they committed to wasting more tax payer dollars by creating more issues that have to be litigated in courts?”

Should executions resume, Governor Pat McCrory will be the final reviewer of death row cases slated for execution. If the Governor signs H774, he will be facing what will likely be a problematic execution process that will inevitably lead to horribly botched executions. Everett said, “Gov. McCrory should not be placed in this position by the General Assembly. The process should be open and transparent to ensure that any execution is carried out correctly and with dignity for all of those involved.”

“We urge the Governor to veto this legislation. If our state is going to engage in capital punishment, we cannot do so by cloaking the execution process in secrecy.” Everett said

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Commentary

In case you missed it, the Fayetteville Observer had this to say this morning about the dreadful proposal to expedite executions and keep the drugs used to do the dirty deed a secret:

“The legislative urgency to get North Carolina back into executing murderers has reached a fever pitch that looks a lot like bloodlust. It’s an ugly spectacle.

A bill approved by the state Senate late Monday would cast a shroud of secrecy over executions and could end physician participation in them….

This attempt to obscure the execution process comes at a time when serious questions are being raised about the death penalty, including two justices of the U.S. Supreme Court wondering in an opinion this year whether the death penalty is constitutional.

That debate will surely continue, and it should. We need thoughtful discussion of the issue and whether we’re imposing a fair sentence or simply seeking revenge for a terrible crime.

What we don’t need is a General Assembly slicing away at reasonable public understanding of the state’s execution protocols, instead choosing to wrap it all in secrecy.

We’d like to believe it’s still our government, not the personal property of a privileged few in the halls of state government.”

Meanwhile, Raleigh’s N&O put it this way yesterday:

“When the government is putting someone to death in the name of the people, the people have a right to know how it is being done.

But in a macabre and all-too-quick march toward resumption of the death penalty in North Carolina, Republican lawmakers are doing all they can to restart executions stalled since 2006 with a measure now in negotiation between the House and Senate that would drop a requirement that doctors be present at executions. The legislation also would keep confidential the drugs to be used in lethal injection executions.

This is a horribly misguided idea….

The death penalty is the one penalty that can’t be corrected. And DNA testing has revealed that some inmates convicted of crimes that could have brought the death penalty have been innocent. Rather than put executions on a fast track, North Carolina should abandon them altogether.”

Sadly, the bill passed the House today and will be sent to Governor McCrory shortly.