News&Observer: Editorial: Deadly Evidence

“Even a committed believer in capital punishment – when the punishment fits the crime, of course – must recoil at the notion of putting an innocent person to death. It turns out that the cases of three executed men are among those in which the State Bureau of Investigation failed to be fully forthcoming about blood evidence. So is it possible that someone was executed who was not a killer? That does not appear to be an issue.

Still, most homicides don’t result in a death penalty. Any defendant is entitled to thorough, accurate reporting of the evidence, so that prosecutors, juries, even his own counsel can make well-informed decisions. Otherwise, the process is tainted – even when the defendant’s guilt is indisputable, as it was for Desmond Carter, Joseph T. Keel and John H. Rose.

The SBI’s crime lab – where dereliction of duty among blood analysts seems to have been sickeningly common – often is called to assess evidence in murder cases. With the agency’s scientific credibility shaken to the core, it’s no wonder advocates for death row inmates are saying enough is enough.

Because of other legal entanglements involving challenges to the use of lethal injection, as well as growing public doubts about an irrevocable punishment in a flawed justice system, North Carolina has not executed anyone for four years. A coalition of death penalty opponents now wants Gov. Beverly Perdue to commute the sentences of the 159 condemned inmates to life without parole. They also are mindful that 147 of those inmates recently filed for relief under the state’s Racial Justice Act, which entitles them to challenge their sentences on grounds of racial bias.

Perdue obviously should order a thorough review of evidence-handling in all these cases. A blanket commutation would be a brave step indeed.

But what’s certain is that the death penalty in North Carolina lies under an even darker cloud than ever. It would save the state’s court system a massive amount of time and effort, while eliminating the possibility of some hideous miscarriage of justice, to decide that life without parole would suffice as this state’s ultimate punishment.”

«Deadly Evidence

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