By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — A law that allows death row inmates to use statistics from other times and places to try to prove racial bias in their own cases will remain on the books and continue to act as a moratorium on capital punishment in North Carolina as a result of Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of Senate Bill 9.
Legislators had voted late last month to repeal much of the Racial Justice Act, signed into law in 2009 and one of only two such laws in the nation, when it became clear that the law was anything but just.
“The so-called ‘Racial Justice Act’ which allows white murderers to claim ‘racial discrimination’ because they murdered white victims in cold blood but were convicted by too many white jurors is obviously misnamed,” said House Majority Leader Paul Stam (R-Wake). “The Governor’s claim that she is a strong supporter of the death penalty is belied by her veto.”
Stam called the RJA an “elaborate ruse that puts the death penalty on hold for many years while the courts determine whether other murderers (not even these murderers) were discriminated against, 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years ago in other districts than their own, by other prosecutors, (some deceased or out of office) or by other judges or juries.”
Of the 158 inmates on death row, all but five have filed to have their cases reviewed under the RJA. More than 50 of those involve white murderers, white victims and white juries.
Although the Governor claimed that she had to veto SB 9 to prevent racial discrimination in the administration of the death penalty, the new law still allowed for relief in any situation in which a defendant could demonstrate racial prejudice in his or her own case.
“Death row defendants receive more due process than any other,” pointed out the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “They receive a trial by jury, direct appeals, post-conviction relief reviews, and state and federal habeas corpus proceedings. It can take as long as 12 years or more before a death row inmate is executed.”
“Now victims’ families will have to endure more years of appeal with the Racial Justice Act remaining in place,” he added. “This is truly a matter of injustice.”
According to prosecutors, a further danger of the RJA which SB 9 would have corrected, is that it could lead to the release of defendants convicted before 1994 who make successful appeals since there was no such sentence as “life without parole” prior to that date. Gov. Perdue dismissed such fears in her veto citing a promise from the N.C. Prisoner Legal Services that it would not help a defendant seek parole after a successful RJA claim.
Five House Democrats had joined Republicans in passing SB 9, however political analysts say it is unlikely the Majority Party could garner enough votes there to pull off a veto override. But Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said his chamber would do so.
District Attorneys across the state were disappointed with the governor’s veto and continue to push for an override.
“We are hopeful the legislators recognize that this issue has nothing to do with race and everything to do with ending the death penalty in North Carolina,” Susan Doyle, president of the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys, told the Raleigh News and Observer. “There is no justice in Gov. Perdue’s decision for victims and their families.”
Dr. Creech called the RJA “one of the most dishonest pieces of legislation that I have ever seen during my 12-year tenure as executive director of the Christian Action League.”
“Its aim is to increase the cost and delay in death penalty cases so that a stronger, yet bogus, case might be made for ending it,” he added. “With as much respect as I have for our governor, though she says she firmly believes in the death penalty, her veto of the Racial Justice Act’s repeal, without a doubt, has weakened the ability to enforce the death penalty in this state.”
Stam said the governor has forgotten one of the first principles of justice — “that it is personal to this particular defendant and to this particular victim.”
“Her lawyers know the truth. The Attorney General knows the effect of the ‘Racial Justice Act.’ The District Attorneys and the Sheriffs of this state, each elected by the people, know that her actions do not match her bold words,” he said.
Gov. Perdue is calling lawmakers back into session on Jan. 4 as a result of the veto. She is required by the State Constitution to bring them back to Raleigh by Jan. 8 or her veto would be canceled.