By M.H. Cavanaugh, L. A. Williams
Christian Action League
December 15, 2017
RALEIGH – The recent brutal murders of prison guards by prisoners in Pasquotank County has brought the issue of the death penalty in North Carolina to the forefront again. Legislative leaders in the General Assembly are urging Governor Cooper and the state’s attorney general, Josh Stein, to take action to restart capital punishment.
Last October, in what has been called the deadliest prison escape attempt in the state’s history, inmates at the Pasquotank Correctional Institute (Elizabeth City) set fire to a sewing plant where they were working. As the fire was being extinguished, several inmates tried to escape but were unsuccessful. A guard and the plant’s manager were killed during the anarchy the same day of the attempt and two other guards later died from their injuries.
Four inmates have been charged with first-degree murder. They are accused of attacking officers with various tools and fighting with them as they were trying to escape. Pasquotank Prosecutors are calling for the death penalty.
Although convicted killers can still be sentenced to death in the Tar Heel state, legal challenges and overreaching restrictions from the N.C. Medical Board (NCMB) created a de-facto moratorium that has existed since 2006. That’s when a case was filed claiming lethal injection was “cruel and unusual” punishment. As a result a federal judge required the state to begin checking condemned inmates for indications of pain as their sentence was carried out. This in turn led the NCMB to threaten disciplinary action against physicians, nurses and pharmacists who in some way are necessary components for exercising the death penalty. The board argued such action would violate the basic medical precept of doing “no harm.”
In May of 2009, The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled the Medical Board had overstepped its bounds and was not authorized to punish anyone from the medical community participating in executions. In 2013, the Republican-led legislature codified this ruling – a decision that now allows medical personnel to participate in executions without fear of reprimand from state licensing boards.
Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said the purpose of the 2013 law was to kick-start the death penalty – to get it back on track. He said it paved a clear path for the Attorney General to start the legal process toward execution by notifying the Secretary of Public Safety. When the Secretary receives word from the Attorney General, he’s supposed to set up a date for execution within a few days. The Attorney General is also required to update the Legislature annually on the status of pending post-conviction capital cases.
But Senate Pro-Tem, Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R- Cleveland) released statements Friday of last week indicating they were unsatisfied with Governor Cooper and AG Stein’s handling of the death penalty. Their remarks accused the Governor and AG of being complicit with efforts by opponents of capital punishment to continue the de-facto moratorium.
“No matter what they say, Cooper and Stein’s indifference and failure to fight the moratorium endangers the lives of prison employees in close proximity to hardened murderers with nothing left to lose, who see no possibility they will face execution for killing again,” said Berger.
Moore said that because Pasquotank prosecutors had decided to pursue the death penalty, “Governor Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein need to make certain, should a jury sentence these men to death, that those sentences are carried out.”
According to a joint letter from Berger and Moore addressed to Gov. Cooper and AG Stein, Cooper’s spokesperson contends “Capital punishment remains the law of the state, and Gov. Cooper has a long history of upholding it.” Stein’s spokesperson says that he will “uphold the law in North Carolina.” However, Berger and Moore respond in the same letter, saying, “Respectfully, actions – or inactions – speak louder than words.” Moore and Berger then contend failure to be pro-active on the matter is indicative of opposition to the death penalty which is the law of North Carolina.
“Genesis 9:6 is a command from God that antedates Israel and the Mosaic code. Its call for capital punishment transcends Old Testament law and remains binding for governments of every era. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul affirms the state’s authority to exercise the death penalty to protect innocent human life from aggressors who fail to respect life,” said Dr. Creech. “The legislature has already done what it can to end the de-facto moratorium. The rest is up to the Governor and the AG. They should get on with it and bring some closure to the families of murder victims in our state. Justice unnecessarily delayed is justice denied.”