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Racial Justice Act supporters make another stand against repeal

Supporters of the Racial Justice Act mounted an offensive Wednesday in hopes of beating back this session’s attempt to wipe the Act off the books and resume executions.

On Wednesday morning, a House judiciary subcommittee took public input on SB306, which has passed the Senate and will be voted on in the subcommittee next week. Afterward, RJA supporters – including about a dozen legislators, two lawyers, a doctor and a relative of a murder victim – were part of the subsequent news conference.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Thom Goolsby, a Republican from Wilmington, would repeal the Racial Justice Act; allow doctors, nurses and pharmacists to participate in executions without retribution from licensing boards; and speed up the process leading to executions.

Dr. Robert Bilbro, a Raleigh internal medicine practitioner, said such a law would run contrary to the position adopted by the N.C. Medical Society and the American Medical Association.

“They can pass laws to manipulate what they say that a physician or surgeon can do, but that doesn’t change the ethical standards,” Bilbro said. “It potentially could erode the public trust in the profession, which at its heart is a profession of care and compassion and healing.”

Jonathan Megerian, a defense attorney in Randolph County, spoke against speeding up executions. He said he had a client on death row for more than 14 years before surpressed evidence accidentally surfaced.

“That’s how our system works,” he said. “It is broken. The RJA did a lot to fix that.”

Watching the news conference was Al Lowry, whose brother, Trooper Ed Lowry, was killed along with a sheriff’s deputy during a traffic stop near Fayetteville in 1997. Afterward, he said the Racial Justice Act only provided an escape hatch for criminals to escape the death penalty, and had nothing to do with racial bias.

The Act, passed in 2009, allowed death-row inmates to try to have their sentences converted to life in prison without parole if they could prove racial bias in their cases, including through the use of statistics to show patterns of bias.


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