Chapel Hill Herald: Editorial: Crime lab lesson clear: abolish the death penalty now

Chapel Hill Herald, Sunday, August 29, 2010

Guest columnist: Rev. Robert Seymour

The shocking revelation that 230 trials have been compromised by the State Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab makes one thing perfectly clear: It is time to abolish capital punishment.  Our Constitution guarantees that everyone accused of a crime has a right to a fair trial based  upon accurate information and scientific correctness.  Sadly, we have executed three men whose convictions are now tainted because of faulty reports either submitted or withheld from the lab.  Although it is not clear that these reports would have been the determining factor in their trial outcomes, it could have been for Desmond Carter, timothy Keel and John Rose.  If the current audit of the activity had not been done, those now on death row might have died due to tainted evidence.

We need to face the reality that there is no way to remove the risk of putting innocent prisoners to death.  All people in the criminal justice system are fallible and capable of making a serious misjudgment.  We should know that there is always the possibility of corruption in any arm of government.  Furthermore, some persons charged with a capital crime have been framed, and jurors may in good faith convict someone who is innocent.

Now we are faced with the question of how the state can retroactively make things right.  Unfortunately, there is no way to right every wrong.  Undeserved years have kept innocent people in prison and they can’t be reclaimed.  Citizens with limited resources who are accused of a crime may suffer the consequences of poor legal counsel.  And, obviously,when we put someone to death, it is irrevocable.

How then can we regain trust in our criminal justice system?  How can we believe that those arrested for a crime will have a fair trial? It is my conviction that morality demands action now in the full awareness that all North Carolinians are part to potential miscarriages of justice.  We have made some progress.  The recent passage of the Racial Justice Act acknowledges that prejudice has been a recurring factor in wrongful convictions in our state.  Tragically, there is little doubt that innocent African/Americans have been executed.

I applaud the stand taken by the medical profession in ruling that physicians should in no way assist in executions.  Though our General Assembly has not formally acted to impose a moratorium on capital punishment, we have not pt a prisoner to death in our state for four years.  Also, there is some evidence that there is a groundswell of objection to the death penalty and that juries are more likely to vote for life sentences without parole.

It is time to urge Gov. Perdue to commute the sentence of all death row inmates to life imprisonment.  It is time for the Legislature to kill the death penalty and for our state to be the first in the South to join those 15 others where the death penalty is no longer an option.

There is absolutely no research that proves the death penalty is a deterrence to crime.  Let us free our lawmakers from the idea that they must vote for the death penalty in order to be seen as tough on crime. We should abolish capital punishment now.  Murder by the state is still murder.  It is time we stopped playing God with people’s lives.

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