Gov. Bev Perdue today vetoed the bill that would gut the Racial Justice Act, the two-year-old law that allows death-row inmates to appeal their sentences based on statistical proof of racial bias.
“I am – and always will be – a strong supporter of the death penalty,” Perdue said in a statement her office issued late this morning. “I firmly believe that some crimes are so heinous that no other punishment is adequate. As long as I am governor, I am committed to ensuring that the death penalty remains a viable punishment option in North Carolina in appropriate cases.”
But, the governor continued, it’s important the death penalty be given “fairly and that the process not be infected with prejudice based on race.”
Perdue’s statement also countered claims by the state’s prosecutors that a successful appeal under the Racial Justice Act would free inmates. Under the act, the only recourse if a death-row inmates successfully argues statistical bias is a reduction in sentence to life in prison without parole. But opponents contend a state Supreme Court ruling would find that punishment invalid, and so some convicts could be released.
Update: Reaction from both sides of the issue has come in from the usual camps. Here's what Susan Doyle, president of the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys, had to say:
"The District Attorneys are very disappointed in the Governor's decision to veto Senate Bill 9. The Racial Justice Act is obviously not working as it was intended. The Governor's veto creates yet another de facto moratorium on the death penalty. North Carolina citizens support the death penalty and do not support a continued moratorium. All of the defendants who have filed claims under the Racial Justice Act have had their death verdicts upheld after an exhaustive appellate review process, including racial discrimination claims. Many of these defendants have even had multiple trials and multiple sentencing hearings. This law is truly an effort to end the death penalty in North Carolina. These cases need to be resolved for the sake of the victims' families and their communities."