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Death penalty: N.C. fight will resume after the holidays

December 21, 2011 |  6:34 am

North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue

In one of the most closely watched legislative tussles over the death penalty since the September  execution of Troy Davis, the North Carolina Legislature will be called back after the holidays to vote on whether to overturn Gov. Beverly Perdue's recent veto of a bill that would weaken efforts to address racial disparities in capital cases.

In 2009, the Legislature, which was then controlled by Democrats, passed the Racial Justice Act, which gave death row inmates and death penalty defendants the ability to use statistics on racial bias as a means of challenging their prosecutions.

But Republicans took control of the Legislature in November and passed a new bill that Democrats said would effectively dismantle the Racial Justice Act.

Republican supporters of that new bill, along with many state prosecutors, argued that the Racial Justice Act amounted to a "backdoor deal" to end the death penalty in the state.

The bill landed on Perdue's desk roughly two months after Davis' execution in Georgia, which put the death penalty back in the center of the America's civic conversation but doesn't seem to have resolved the bitter disagreement over the matter.

Perdue, a Democrat who has said she supports the death penalty, vetoed the bill Dec. 14, leading some critics to question her true stance on capital punishment.

"You no longer have any moral authority to suggest that you strongly support the death penalty," a local prosecutor named Richard Shaffer wrote to her, according to the Raleigh News & Observer. "Your action has shown that particular statement to be untrue."

Shaffer resigned from the governor's crime commission in protest.

Perdue has argued that although she still believes in the death penalty, she wants to be sure that it is carried out without the taint of racial bias.

News & Observer reporter Craig Jarvis writes that Republicans have enough votes to override the veto in the Senate. But it seems less likely that an override will get the three-fifths vote necessary to succeed in the House.

RELATED:

Bias on death row? North Carolina lawmakers now not so sure

Death sentences plunge in U.S.; Texas again No. 1 in executions

Death penalty upheld for woman who shot and killed her 4 children

— Richard Fausset in Atlanta

Photo: North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue. Credit: Mike Spencer / Wilmington Star-News / Associated Press 

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