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The momentum for abolition continues to build. Yesterday, the legislature of the red state of Nebraska voted overwhelmingly to abolish the death penalty and today, arch-conservative hero George Will told us why it was a good idea:

“The conservative case against capital punishment, which 32 states have, is threefold. First, the power to inflict death cloaks government with a majesty and pretense of infallibility discordant with conservatism. Second, when capital punishment is inflicted, it cannot later be corrected because of new evidence, so a capital punishment regime must be administered with extraordinary competence. It is, however, a government program. Since 1973, more than 140 people sentenced to death have been acquitted of their crimes (sometimes by DNA evidence), had the charges against them dismissed by prosecutors or have been pardoned based on evidence of innocence. For an unsparing immersion in the workings of the governmental machinery of death, read “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson, executive director and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative.

Third, administration of death sentences is so sporadic and protracted that their power to deter is attenuated. And the expensive, because labyrinthine, legal protocols with which the judiciary has enveloped capital punishment are here to stay. Granted, capital punishment could deter: If overdue library books were punishable by death, none would be overdue. But many crimes for which death is reserved, including Tsarnaev’s crime of ideological premeditation, are especially difficult to deter.

Those who favor capital punishment because of its supposed deterrent effect do not favor strengthening that effect by restoring the practice of public executions. There has not been one in America since 1937 (a hanging in Galena, Mo.) because society has decided that state-inflicted deaths, far from being wholesomely didactic spectacles, are coarsening and revolting.

Revulsion is not an argument, but it is evidence of what former chief justice Earl Warren called society’s “evolving standards of decency.” In the essay ‘Reflections on the Guillotine,’ Albert Camus wrote, ‘The man who enjoys his coffee while reading that justice has been done would spit it out at the least detail.’ Capital punishment, say proponents, serves social catharsis. But administering it behind prison walls indicates a healthy squeamishness that should herald abolition.”

Commentary, Justice Denied for McCollum and Brown

McCollum BrownThe failure of Governor Pat McCrory to grant pardons to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown after more than eight months now borders on the farcical.

The editorial page of the Fayetteville Observer is the latest to weigh in with an exceedingly polite editorial entitled “Unjustly convicted, these men deserve justice.” Here is the conclusion:

“Eight months ago, a Robeson County judge reviewed the evidence and ordered the two men released. Since then, they have lived with their sister, near Eastover. The two are adjusting to the 21st century, learning about the Internet, cellphones and other integral parts of modern life that arrived while they were in prison.

But they are still in limbo, still not completely free to resume a normal life. Because of their rape conviction, they were ordered to registered as sex offenders before they were released. Their convictions are still on their records and a serious impediment to finding work.

By law, the state owes them $50,000 for each year of their improper incarceration, up to a maximum of $750,000. And even more important, the governor owes them a pardon – which rightfully should have come as soon as the men were cleared of the crimes. Three decades of their lives were unjustly taken away. There is no compensation large enough.

We hope the governor and his staff move quickly to clear McCollum’s and Brown’s records and get them the compensation they are due. They’ve given up more than anyone ever should.”

Commentary

The following post appeared earlier today on the N.C. Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty blog.

Reasonable doubt: N.C. says 900 convictions based on bad evidence

By Kristin Collins

This week, buried in a Charlotte Observer editorial, was a surprising admission: The N.C. Commission on Actual Innocence is reexamining 900 convictions in which the State Bureau of Investigation may have used unreliable forensic evidence.

In all these cases, the SBI used hair analysis to prove the defendant’s guilt. In most cases, that means analysts used a microscope to compare hairs found at the crime scene with the defendant’s hair, and said they matched up. This technique was used in North Carolina until DNA testing of hair became available, around 2003. We don’t know how many of the 900 are death penalty cases.

We now know that this kind of forensic “science” is junk. Subjective forensic evidence, such as hair comparisons and bite mark comparisons, have been a contributing factor in more than a quarter of the 329 DNA-exoneration cases in the U.S. since 1989.

Last week, the FBI admitted that it has overstated the reliability of hair analysis in virtually every case where hair evidence was presented, including 36 cases where defendants were sentenced to death.

Only three of the cases the FBI identified were in North Carolina, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a big problem.

Guess where North Carolina’s SBI learned its hair analysis techniques? From the FBI.

We already know bad hair analysis has contributed to one wrongful conviction in North Carolina: that of Joseph Sledge, who was recently exonerated after 36 years in prison. Read More

Commentary

Death penaltyToday’s exoneration of Joseph Sledge after 36 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit gives rise to one overriding question today:

How many more men wrongfully convicted and imprisoned (or even sent to Death Row) is it going to take before the stubborn defenders of the death penalty in North Carolina finally admit that it is simply impossible to impose such a punishment in a fair and foolproof way?

Unless one simply goes along with the mind-boggling and terrifying position of Antonin Scalia that there is nothing wrong or unconstitutional  with executing a person “who had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a court that he is ‘actually’ innocent,” any honest person must simply admit that the time has finally come to end the death penalty once and for all.

Commentary

We’ll take good news where we can find it these days and this one from yesterday’s Raleigh News & Observer certainly seems worth celebrating.

Conservative anti-death penalty group active in NC

A North Carolina chapter of a national network of conservatives that wants to put the brakes on — if not outright abolish — the death penalty has become active this year.

A number of prominent Republicans have joined N.C. Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty: Les Merritt, the former state auditor; Ernie Pearson, a former assistant commerce secretary; David Robinson, once the Wake County GOP chairman; Marshall Hurley, former state Republican Party general counsel; Steve Monks, former Durham County GOP chairman; Mark Edwards, the Nash County GOP chairman; and Gerald Galloway, retired police chief in Southern Pines….

The conservative group takes its position based on their belief that the death penalty doesn’t jibe with the small-government philosophy. They also say mistaken convictions, the emotional impact on victims’ families and their pro-life stance are among the reasons people have become members.

Hyden worked for the National Rifle Association and ran a congressional campaign in western North Carolina. The other national coordinator is Heather Beaudoin, who worked for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Meanwhile, in case you had any doubts about how North Carolina was saved from executing an innocent man by dumb luck, read Fannie Flono’s column in this morning’s Charlotte Observer, “The death penalty, luck and innocence.” As Flono notes:

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