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Professors weigh in against death penalty legislation

Lethal injectionIn keeping with its practice of reversing progress and bucking national trends toward saner and more progressive public policies, the state Senate will take up a bill this morning to repeal the Racial Justice Act and jump-start executions. If the bill advances, however, it will do so over the objections of a group of more than 70 college and university professors who have delivered a letter to lawmakers spelling out the flaws in the legislation.

Meanwhile, one of the professors in the group — Appalachian State criminologist Matthew Robinson — authored an op-ed in the Winston-Salem Journal yesterday that does an excellent job of explaining why the proposed legislation is counterproductive. 

“As a professional criminologist who has written numerous articles and books on the factors that produce crimes like murder and how to prevent them, I am confident that the death penalty is a distraction from policies that actually work. So we should stop wasting our time “tinkering with the machinery of death” and get to the hard work of finally getting serious about instituting more effective crime prevention policies.”

You can read Robinson’s entire essay by clicking here.

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Judge ruling in three Racial Justice Act cases finds race a factor in jury selection

Per WRAL:

A North Carolina judge on Thursday commuted the sentences of three death row inmates to life in prison after finding that race played a factor in jury selection for their cases.

Lawyers for Christina “Queen” Walters, Tilmon Golphin and Quintel Augustine argued at a hearing in October that statistics and handwritten notes from prosecutors show racial bias in jury selection.

Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks agreed with their motions for re-sentencing under the state’s Racial Justice Act, saying “the court finds no joy in these conclusions.”

Earlier this year, an inmate became the first to have his sentence commuted to life without parole under the provisions of the 2009 law, which Republicans in the state legislature have sought to repeal since its approval.

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And the GOP wonders why it struggles to attract minority voters

In recent months, there’s been some talk that the combination of the slow economic recovery and the President’s embrace of same sex marriage would somehow depress the support from racial minorities that he and other Democrats would garner in the November election.

Hmmm, maybe.

But as the 2011-2012 biennium of the North Carolina General Assembly has wound down in recent weeks, we’ve been reminded repeatedly why minority voters continue to support the Democrats by huge majorities (and why GOP claims about wanting to be a truly inclusive party when it comes to race) ring hollow for so many of these same voters: It’s about performance in office.

An obvious case in point: Read more

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Perdue vetoes effort to weaken the Racial Justice Act

Governor Perdue vetoed Senate Bill 416 on Thursday, legislation that critics said would dramatically weaken the 2009 Racial Justice Act.

Last year, Republicans in the General Assembly passed a bill that would have repealed the RJA, which Perdue promptly vetoed.  The governor says the “compromise” bill (SB 416) offered during this short session would also gut the act and render it meaningless.

Here’s more from the Governor’s statement:

“Several months ago, a North Carolina superior court judge ruling on a claim brought under the Racial Justice Act determined that racial discrimination occurred in death penalty trials across the State over a multi-year period.  The judge’s findings should trouble everyone who is committed to a justice system based on fairness, integrity, and equal protection under the law.  Faced with these findings, the Republican majority in the General Assembly could have tried to strengthen our efforts to fix the flaws in our system.  Instead, they chose to turn a blind eye to the problem and eviscerate the Racial Justice Act.  Willfully ignoring the pernicious effects of discrimination will not make those problems go away.

It is simply unacceptable for racial prejudice to play a role in the imposition of the death penalty in North Carolina.”

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Efforts to weaken Racial Justice Act advance in NC House (video)

Final House approval could come later this week for Senate Bill 416, legislation that critics say will gut the state’s landmark Racial Justice Act. The new bill requires that judges have evidence beyond basic statistical analysis before deciding that race was a factor in an inmate receiving a death sentence.

Rep. Larry Womble, one of the chief supporters of the 2009 Racial Justice Act, told the House chamber it was a lie to suggest inmates using the RJA would be freed from prison if the appeal was successful.

Senate Bill 416 won tentative approval (72-47) in the state House on Tuesday and is on Wednesday’s calendar for a third reading. To hear more from the floor debate, click below.

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