Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Lawmakers spar over death penalty

Lawmakers spar over death penalty

2/6/2007 7:00 AM
By: Margaret Lillard, Associated Press

RALEIGH -- On the eve of a meeting where state leaders are to consider a new execution procedure, lawmakers bickered Monday about when they should join the debate over the role a doctor plays when the state puts an inmate to death.

The meeting of the House Study Committee on Capital Punishment, formed last year to consider issues such as racial equity in jury selection and ethical behavior by lawyers in capital cases, ended with a tense exchange over questions of whether its work is a veiled effort to abolish capital punishment altogether.

Co-chair Beverly Earle, D-Mecklenburg, quelled the argument by asking members to remember their assigned mission is only to find and fix errors in the state's death penalty system.

"I would want to think that none of us would want to see an innocent person put to death. I would want to think that, but it's beginning to be kind of hard," she said. "I would think that we'd want to put all the safeguards that we can in place to make sure that that doesn't happen."

The council is considering the new protocol after a judge put three planned executions on hold.
The council is considering the new protocol after a judge put three planned executions on hold.
The committee's meeting came a day before the Council of State -- the governor, lieutenant governor and the elected heads of eight state government agencies -- is due to take up a new "execution protocol" that requires a doctor's participation. That apparently conflicts with the state medical board's recent declaration that physicians violate medical ethics by taking an active role in a lethal injection.

The council is considering the new protocol after a judge put three planned executions on hold, cited a law written in 1909 that says the governor and the Council of State must approve any change in the execution process.

"With all due respect -- the secretary of agriculture, commerce, the treasurer -- I don't know that they are properly trained to make those decisions, life or death decisions," Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, said after the meeting.

Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue's office released a written statement late Monday saying Perdue supported suspending executions until constitutional questions related to how the death penalty is administered are "clarified by the courts."

The statement said Purdue, a likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2008, remained a proponent of capital punishment but didn't say how Perdue would vote Tuesday.

More Information
Death Penalty

News 14 Carolina's Gretchen Bartelt previews Tuesday's meeting in this onscene report.

Panel co-chairman and House Speaker Joe Hackney, D-Orange, said the ongoing debate prompted him to ask committee staff to draw up legislation that would suspend the death penalty while the Legislature studies lethal injection.

A similar moratorium and study is under way in Florida, where then-Gov. Jeb Bush put executions on hold in December and created a commission to examine whether improvements can be made to the way lethal injections are administered.

Hackney's suggestion sparked the tense debate, and although the panel ultimately decided against discussing the matter until the courts and Council of State have time to act, some committee members insisted the debate belongs before the Legislature.

"I have never seen legislators run as fast away from taking on their legislative responsibilities as I have today," said Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham. "I don't understand ... why the General Assembly would not want to clarify the statute if we have the medical board saying a doctor can't participate even if the needle is put in improperly."

The debate grew more heated as former Rep. Rick Eddins, R-Wake, recounted witnessing the execution of his uncle's killer and cautioned other panel members against losing sight of the victims of capital crimes.

"I'm not going to be here to represent the victim," said Eddins, who lost his re-election bid in last year's GOP primary. "But each one of you has victims in your district, I guarantee that."

The panel did agree to recommend some legislation, including a bill that would allow a claim of racial discrimination to be introduced at any point in the appeals process.

It also recommended legislation to provide for further study on restructuring the state law defining capital murder and felony murder; methods to ensure fairness in jury selection, including minority representation; racial discrimination in capital sentences; and mental competency issues in capital cases.

More Information
Related Stories
More Information

2/5/07Lawmakers decide against moratorium
2/2/07Death penalty issue in unlikely hands
1/31/07NC leaders to take up execution issue soon
1/25/07Lawmakers disagree over death penalty
1/25/07Wake Co. judge halts NC executions

No comments: