Justice or excuse for executions?

RALEIGH The civil rights group is leading the fight against it in the North Carolina Legislature.

Supporters of the landmark bill say it would prevent the execution of defendants who can prove race was an underlying factor in the decision to seek, or impose, the death penalty at the time of their trial.

But the same bill also allows doctors and nurses to participate in executions without being punished. That means the controversial issue which has effectively put executions on hold for more than two years in North Carolina could be over if the bill passes.

"We believe many conservatives used it as a pretext for restarting the death penalty rather than staying focused on the real issue which is racial justice," offered North Carolina NAACP chief Rev. William Barber.

Barber was joined by religious leaders at a news conference outside the Legislature on Thursday. One member of the Catholic Diocese said he didn't understand how a measure that purportedly acknowledges that African Americans have been put to death due to racial bias could also restore capital punishment.

"In a state where such bias has unjustifiably placed black men on death row in NC to the present day is beyond comprehension," offered the speaker.

But the Republican who added the amendment to the bill allowing doctors to take part in executions says without it, the bill would be just another roadblock to executions.

"If they want to have a discussion or debate about whether or not the death penalty is appropriate punishment for those [who have committed] 1st degree premeditated murderers, then let's have that debate," offered Sen. Phil Berger.

Berger has public opinion on his side. A poll released Wednesday by the conservative leaning Civitas Institute shows North Carolina voters overwhelmingly support capital punishment.

The House Ways and Means Committee is set to vote on the Racial Justice Act on Wednesday.

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