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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

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

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals sent the challenge to the state’s recently-adopted lethal injection protocol back to the trial court today for further findings as to whether that protocol must undergo the administrative rule-making and review process before becoming effective.

Secretary of Public Safety Frank Perry had adopted a new protocol without such review in October 2013, after the General Assembly empowered him to do so with amendments to the law relating to executions passed last June.

Marcus Robinson and three other death row inmates had originally sued the state in 2007, arguing that the three-drug cocktail then used for executions lead to cruel and unusual punishment and that the procedures then in place for administering that injection and completing an execution had not undergone appropriate administrative review.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens ruled in favor of the state on the inmates’ claims in March 2012, but while the case worked its way through appeals, the legislature changed the law on executions, enabling the Secretary alone to determine necessary procedures.

Perry then issued a twenty-page document titled “Execution Procedure Manual for Single Drug Protocol (Pentobarbital)” in October 2013 which in part replaced the three-drug cocktail with a single-drug.

After that change the inmates dropped their claims regarding the drugs used but continued to argue that the protocol followed to complete executions – including issues such as whether a physician should be present to oversee an execution — had to be approved through a rule-making process which included input from members of the public.

At arguments in the Court of Appeals in January, the state argued that it was exempt from rule-making requirements when it came to issues relating solely to inmates in the custody of DPS.

But the inmates contended that the manner of executions was hardly a matter relating only to death row inmates.

“The rules in the Execution Procedure Manual affect not only condemned inmates,” they said in court filings. “They also specifically direct the conduct of a number of other persons connected with executions, including inmates visitors, attorneys, clergy, members of the media, execution witnesses and members of the public.”

Former Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr amplified that argument on behalf of the inmates. “The execution of a citizen of this state is probably the single-most impactful act that the government can do,” he said. “The public’s ability to understand how the procedure works, to understand who is there, to understand what their role is, is part of being an informed public.”

The judges themselves expressed concern during argument over whether the issue was even properly before them, given that the protocol now being challenged was adopted after the 2012 trial court ruling under appeal.  That concern became the basis for the Court’s decision today.

Writing for the panel, Judge Robert C. Hunter said:

The order from which plaintiffs appealed contains no findings of fact or conclusions of law relating to the sole issue before us. Nor could it. These arguments could not have been considered by the trial court when it entered the 12 March 2012 order because they stem entirely from subsequent changes to section 15-188 and the execution protocol made during pendency of this appeal. Thus, in effect, we have nothing to review. Absent a ruling from the trial court on these matters, we are without authority to consider them in the first instance on appeal.

Read the full decision here.

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.