Thursday, 25 January 2007

Executing people is a terrible business

Published on Thursday, January 25, 2007

Executing people is a terrible business

Now is the time to put an end to the death penalty, this crawling bug, this island of publicly funded inhumanity lodged in the center of our free society.

Recent numbers suggest that states are getting the message: Last year, the number of people sentenced to death dropped to its lowest point in 30 years.

A corner has been turned with recent botched executions in Florida and California, both of which hint that we may be brutalizing unarmed men in addition to killing them. This is terrible business for a government to be involved in, and the United States is the only western government that still is involved in it.

Other governments that practice state-sponsored killing include Iran, China and North Korea. Our government kills in the range of 60 Americans a year. In the whole continent of South America, the number for 2004 was 0. And yet it is we who are the self-styled leaders of the free world.

In Florida, the executioners did not insert the needles correctly into the arms of Angel Diaz, and he lingered on in obvious pain for more than a half-hour.

North Carolina uses an identical method of execution. Our state is, as of now, pressing forward with plans to kill inmates on Friday, Feb. 2 and Feb.9.

Letter calls for halt

Thirty lawmakers sent a letter to Gov. Mike Easley on Monday asking, sensibly, that he follow the lead of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and halt executions until we can figure out if they constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment.

The letter circulated very quickly via e-mail in Raleigh circles on a busy week in which legislators were sworn in. The haste of the letter is likely related to the desire of its sender, Sen. Ellie Kinnaird of Orange County, to get the letter to Easley before Friday.

At 2 a.m. Friday, Fayetteville’s Marcus Reymond Robinson is scheduled to be put to death for killing Erik Tornblom in 1994.

Point is, many more folks would have signed onto the letter had it made the rounds in traditional fashion.

For instance, of our Cumberland County delegation, all six legislators have previously said they support a moratorium on capital punishment until flaws in the system can be addressed. A moratorium bill passed the Senate and faded in the house two years ago.

State Rep. Margaret Dickson, who was with her family yesterday after being sworn in, said by the time she saw Tuesday’s e-mail, the letter had already gone to the governor. A past supporter of the moratorium, she said she had not had a chance to read the letter closely enough to know if she would have supported it.

Rep. Rick Glazier, who along with Sen. Larry Shaw was listed as a signatory to the letter, said he helped with some of its language. Glazier said the letter did not call for an end to capital punishment but asked the governor to wait until we verified that our method of administering lethal injection is humane.

“Since it is something our science can resolve, it seems to me only fair and right we pause for a few weeks to get the (lethal) medicine right,” Glazier said.

But, letter aside, Glazier added that the issues addressed by the stalled moratorium bill are still in place. Those issues include how a capital trial can be tainted by everything from the race of the defendant to the reliability of jailhouse snitches.

Two murders and a mom

The unequal application of the death penalty is illustrated through the story of Shirley Burns’ two sons.

The man scheduled to be executed at 2 a.m. Friday is her son, Marcus. Another son of hers, Curtis Lamar Green, was murdered.

The man accused of killing Green will not get the death penalty, even though one of the conditions that would justify the sentence is if the murder is “especially cruel or heinous.” Green was beaten to death, which apparently qualifies as neither.

At a public hearing on capital punishment in Raleigh, Burns, a nurse and minister who lives in Hope Mills, asked how many people had been on both sides of the table.

“Here I am pleading and begging for my son’s life,” she said. “How can I, as a Christian, ask for another person’s life?”

Even if there were a truly humane way for North Carolina to kill an unarmed man or woman, the death penalty must go. The state cannot say killing is wrong and then kill, no matter how satisfying revenge may be.

We must stamp out this capital punishment bug, and I’m calling on tough legislators with heart and some thick boots to take the lead.

Columnist Myron B. Pitts can be reached at or 486-3559.
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