EDITORIALS: A Penalty of the Past
The News & Record of North Carolina recently featured an editorial encouraging the state’s legislature and governor to abolish the death penalty. The editorial noted the controversies that have surrounded the use of capital punishment in the state, including disagreement about lethal injections and the inconsistent way the penalty has been applied. The declining number of death sentences and the extensive time needed before an execution can take place led the paper to conclude the state “should do away with the death penalty and convert the sentence of every condemned prisoner to life without parole." The paper noted that many of the people who are on the state's death row would probably not be given a death sentence today because of changing attitudes and higher standards of representation. Abolition, the editors said, "will put an end to death-sentence appeals, eliminate inconsistencies, ease the medical conflict, and bring the law into line with the way the courts apply it in almost every case.”
The full editorial may be found below:
News & Record
Editorial: A penalty of the past
Gov. Mike Easley raised a pointed question about crime and punishment:
'When are we going to hold some of these people accountable and get some of these executions going again? That's what I want to know,' the governor said to N&R reporter Mark Binker in an interview last month.
It won't happen on Easley's watch. His term expires Saturday. Whether the state's execution chamber gets busy again during the tenure of the next governor, Bev Perdue, remains to be seen. She also supports capital punishment, although probably not as impatiently as Easley.
If she and legislative leaders are wise, however, they'll find a way out of North Carolina's death-penalty dilemma.
Attitudes and applications are changing. Nothing could show this more dramatically than the fact that only one convicted murderer was sentenced to death in North Carolina during 2008.
That continues a downward trend, and it demonstrates that juries are increasingly uncomfortable with the death penalty and more confident in the alternative of life in prison without parole. Easley might be eager for executions to get going again, but the men and women who serve on juries don't share his fervor.
Exceptions are possible. The killing of UNC student Eve Carson last March might be a case where a jury recommends the death penalty, but that crime generated extraordinary attention and sympathy for the victim. Much more often, juries show restraint or prosecutors accept a guilty plea in exchange for a life sentence.
This creates an obvious inequity. There are 162 inmates on North Carolina's Death Row. Most were put there under standards in place 10 or 15 years ago or longer. If tried for the same offenses today, most probably would not be sentenced to death. It's not that their crimes weren't heinous; rather, life in prison usually is seen now as the most appropriate punishment.
Executions in North Carolina have been stalled for more than two years for a different reason. State law requires a physician to attend each execution, but the N.C. Medical Board forbids it. The impasse is waiting for resolution by the state Supreme Court.
This has created a disgraceful conflict, with state authorities trying to force an organization of professional healers to abandon medical ethics.
The way out is clear. The legislature and governor -- Perdue, not Easley -- should do away with the death penalty and convert the sentence of every condemned prisoner to life without parole. That will put an end to death-sentence appeals, eliminate inconsistencies, ease the medical conflict and bring the law into line with the way the courts apply it in almost every case.
Easley asks when executions will get going again, but juries are speaking. They rarely see the death penalty as the state's best response anymore, even to terrible crimes.
Is anyone listening? Juries are making more sense than the outgoing governor.
("Editorial: A penalty of the past," The News & Record, January 4, 2008). See Editorials.