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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.

Commentary

The North Carolina Senate is scheduled to take up legislation this evening that would, among other worrisome things, strike a large and troubling blow for the cause of government secrecy. The subject is the death penalty and the legislation in question would specifically amend the state public records law to make clear that citizens will be prohibited from finding out information about the drugs that will be used kill people in their name — including who makes them. This is from an Associated Press story from last Thursday:

“The state Senate could vote as soon as next week on legislation clarifying executions are exempt from state requirements for the public rule-making process. That would allow officials to find new drugs for lethal injection more quickly and with less public review. The bill also eases restrictions on the types of drugs used and prohibits disclosing where they are manufactured.”

As bad is all of this is, however, listen to the explanation for this provision advanced by the bill’s main sponsor:

“When asked by a Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee whether his bill decreased transparency, Rep. Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston, said he agreed it did. But he argued that a certain level of secrecy was required to protect drug manufacturers.

‘If you tell them where the drug comes from, there will be 300 people outside the building,’ Daughtry said.”

In other words, lawmakers want to keep the drugs secret so that, well, so that no one will find out what they are or where they come from and then, perish the thought, use the information to communicate with the pharmaceutical companies that make them.

What an outrageous concept! Citizens using public information to find out the identities of the companies to whom their government is giving public funds to buy drugs to kill people in the public’s name and then, perhaps, exercising their First Amendment rights to target protests against those companies.

This from lawmakers who came to power championing “transparency” and an “open” and “small” government.

Perhaps the stunning hypocrisy of all this (not to mention the very troubling precedent that would be established) explains why the North Carolina Press Association (of which — full disclosure — NC Policy Watch is a member) opposes the legislation.

Let’s hope that, regardless of their views on the death penalty, lawmakers wake up to the real world dangers of this new provision and the symbolic, Big Brother-like message it sends.

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

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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?
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