State council weighs in on death penalty
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
By Mark Binker Staff Writer
RALEIGH — Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler never expected to have to weigh in on the death penalty, but Tuesday morning he found himself listening to the ins and outs of the controversy over lethal injection.
"This was a little outside of what I expected to deal with," Troxler, a Republican, said as he made his way to the Flavors of North Carolina expo in Charlotte. Meeting and greeting agribusiness executives, grocers, restaurateurs and farmers is a far more common part of Troxler’s job.
Troxler, a Browns Summit farmer, was among seven Council of State members who voted to approve the method by which North Carolina puts condemned prisoners to death.
The governor, lieutenant governor and eight other statewide elected leaders, including Troxler, make up the council. Put together as a check on the governor’s power, its usual responsibilities include approving real estate sales and bond issues.
Tuesday’s discussion was a detour in the larger course of a complex and long-running public debate over whether and how to ensure the death penalty is meted out fairly and legally.
It came about because Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens unearthed a little-known state law that required the council to sign off on any changes to the state’s method of execution, according to lawyers with the attorney general’s office.
One thing pretty much everyone could agree on after the meeting was the death penalty discussion would be better resolved by the courts and most likely would require the General Assembly to step in.
"North Carolina deserves to have an honest debate on the death penalty, and this is not the place to be hearing it," state Treasurer Richard Moore said.
Legislators have been discussing changes to the death penalty, including a moratorium, for the past several years. And Monday, a House study committee recommended the legislature explore a series of changes to the state’s death penalty laws.
"It’s all about the fair administration of the death penalty," Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Guilford County Democrat, said after that meeting.
Too often, she said, death penalty reforms were portrayed as a way to eliminate the death penalty — a stated goal of some groups — rather than to ensure its administration was even-handed.
"You want to reserve the death penalty for the worst of the worst, truly heinous crimes," Harrison said.
While the legislature’s next steps are uncertain, equally uncertain is the death penalty’s path through the courts.
Among the complications are state law and court rulings that require doctors to make sure condemned prisoners don’t suffer during executions. Those seem to be at odds with a 2006 N.C. Medical Society ruling that prohibits physicians from participating in executions.
Contact Mark Binker at (919) 832-5549 or firstname.lastname@example.org