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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?
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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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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.)