June 1, 2007
Capital punishment finds fewer supporters
The News & Record
Fewer than 60 percent of North Carolinians support the death penalty, an
Elon University poll found in April, a drop from 64 percent in 2005.
The number still might impress timid legislators, but it doesn't meet the
standard required in a court of law.
In a poll that really counted, two-thirds of the jurors in a Guilford County
courtroom Tuesday favored the death penalty for double-murderer William
James Schreiber, but the one-third who didn't were enough to spare his life.
All 12 jurors agreed about Schreiber's guilt. They heard compelling evidence
that he murdered Teri Marie Sokoloff, stabbing her 14 times, and drowned her
8-month-old child -- gruesome, heinous crimes.
Sokoloff's father, John Land, wondered after Schreiber was sentenced to two
consecutive terms of life in prison how any killer could be more deserving
of the death penalty. But, in a statement to News & Record reporter Jonathan
Jones, he added: "I can understand that some people do not vision any
situation under which the state should put someone to death."
He's right, and those people are increasing in number. Once, prosecutors
easily could fill out a jury in capital cases without accepting anyone
absolutely opposed to the death penalty; now it's harder. Central Prison's
death row has received only one new inmate in 2007, continuing a long
decline. Juries more frequently prefer the option of life in prison without
parole, even in response to terrible murders.
Another part of the equation is the standoff between the N.C. Medical Board
and the state. The board won't allow physicians to participate in
executions, while the N.C. Department of Correction requires a physician to
monitor the administration of lethal chemicals. The conflict has moved into
the courts, but a resolution seems unlikely. In effect, an execution
moratorium exists, with no one put to death since last August. So, why
should juries add anyone else to a death-row line that isn't moving?
Legislators could end the stalemate by eliminating the death penalty. Most
people might say they'd rather keep the option for use in the worst cases,
but few ever have to make that life-or-death decision. A real jury was put
in that position this week in one of the worst imaginable cases and could
not agree to impose the death penalty.
The legislature can save other juries from having to struggle with those
decisions, stop the legal challenges and let the N.C. Medical Board focus on
healing people by ending an outdated and inconsistently applied punishment.
All lawmakers need is as much courage as a few jurors who say it's
punishment enough to lock up killers like Schreiber for the rest of their
Source : The News & Record