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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.

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

In case you missed it, the lead editorial in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer does a fine job of summarizing the new and disturbing report from the good people at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation: “On Trial for Their Lives: The Hidden Costs of Wrongful Capital prosecutions in North Carolina.”

As the editorial notes:

“District attorneys who choose to bring capital charges often do so as an expression of the public’s outrage over a heinous crime. But a new report suggests that putting a defendant on trial for his life also can involve another sort of outrage – the pursuit of flimsy cases at high cost to taxpayers and great damage to the accused.

The report from the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in North Carolina looked at problems with death penalty cases from an unusual perspective. Instead of focusing on defendants who were wrongly convicted, the center studied 56 North Carolina capital cases brought between 1989 and 2015 that ended with an acquittal or dismissal of all charges

The finding of 56 cases is a remarkably high number over the past quarter-century given that the state’s death row population is 148. Presumably, prosecutors would not pursue costly, extended death penalty cases unless there was a high probability of a conviction. But the report found shoddy cases derailed by serious errors or misconduct, including witness coercion, evidence not properly disclosed and bungled investigations.”

The editorial concludes this way:

“In North Carolina, there have been no executions since 2006 because of concerns about the drugs used and the refusal of doctors to participate in a process that by law requires a doctor’s presence. Some in the North Carolina General Assembly are trying to streamline the path to execution by proposing a change that would allow medical personnel other than doctors to fulfill the required medical role.

This report adds another chapter to the evidence that the death penalty and the pursuit of it can border on being crimes in themselves. The record demands that the wrongs wrought by this pursuit of vengeance be ended by the pursuit of justice.”

NC Policy Watch will host a Crucial Conversation luncheon today at noon with the authors of the report. We’ll post the video of the event in the very near future.

Commentary

Some seats still remain for tomorrow’s Crucial Conversation luncheon:

Is the death penalty broken beyond repair in North Carolina?

Click here to register

NCPW-CC-2015-6-25-gretchen-engelNCPW-CC-2015-6-25-ken-roseNCPW-CC-2015-6-25-kristin-collins

Featuring Gretchen Engel, Ken Rose and Kristin Collins of the North Carolina Center for Death Penalty Litigation

The recent pardons belatedly granted by Governor Pat McCrory to Henry McCollum (who sat unjustly on North Carolina’s death row for 30 years) and his half-brother Leon Brown (who had been sentenced to life in prison) have served to draw attention once more to North Carolina’s flawed criminal justice system and, in particular, the question of whether the death penalty can ever be fairly applied.

Today, in fact, two-thirds of North Carolina’s 149 death row inmates were sentenced more than 15 years ago, before key reforms vastly reduced the number of death sentences imposed in North Carolina. Many, like McCollum and Brown, were tried before DNA testing was widely used, and before laws requiring confessions to be videotaped and allowing defendants access to all of the state’s evidence in their cases.

Now, a soon-to-be-released report from experts at North Carolina’s nationally recognized Center for Death Penalty Litigation (CDPL) promises to raise even more questions about wrongful capital prosecutions, their financial and human costs and the very legitimacy of our criminal justice system.

Please join us for this very special NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation with the report authors – CDPL Executive Director Gretchen Engel, Senior Staff Attorney Ken Rose and Associate Director of Public Information Kristin Collins.

When: Thursday, June 25, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Click here for parking info.

Space is limited – preregistration required.

Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch.

Click here to register

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com

Commentary

From the good people at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation

“Death penalty advocates say executions are needed to puni:sh a small handful of the “worst of the worst” criminals. However, a new report from the Center for Death Penalty Litigation finds that the death penalty in North Carolina is being used broadly and indiscriminately, with little regard for the strength of the evidence against defendants — and putting innocent people at risk of being sentenced to die.

On Trial for Their Lives: The Hidden Costs of Wrongful Capital Prosecutions in North Carolina is the first study in the United States of cases in which people were charged or prosecuted capitally but never convicted. The study finds that 56 people since 1989 — about two a year — have been capitally prosecuted in North Carolina despite evidence too weak to prove their guilt. The wrongful prosecutions happened in 31 counties in every region of the state.

The report comes on the heels of the exoneration of Henry McCollum, North Carolina’s longest serving death row inmate. It exposes another facet of a capital punishment system that targets innocent people with the death penalty. Considering that only 40 people have been executed in North Carolina in the time period the report covers, more people have faced the death penalty and not been convicted of a crime than have been executed in North Carolina.”