DA: Death penalty cases held up by racial justice law
CHARLOTTE, N.C. —
Death penalty opponents in Georgia spent the weekend urging a parole board to spare the life of convicted killer Troy Davis.
While there has not been an execution in North Carolina for years due to a moratorium, the controversy has raged on in that time.
One of the battles is over the Racial Justice Act, a bill designed to ensure fairness, but prosecutors say it is often misused by death row inmates.
Despite the halt to execution, Mecklenburg County will try three death penalty cases next year, and the District Attorney says the lethal punishment will return to the state.
"It's solid and its something prosecutors should have in their tool belt. To be able to use and so I don't see it changing in North Carolina anytime soon," said Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray.
The Racial Justice Act was signed into law in 2009 to determine whether race was the deciding factor in seeking the death penalty. It allows capital offense case defendants and death row inmates to challenge their charge or conviction on the basis of race.
However, prosecutors said the law is being exploited. There are currently 158 inmates on death row. Of those, 152 have filed racial justice claims.
"When you're sitting on death row you're pretty much gonna use anything and everything at your disposal in which to challenge your conviction and not get the death penalty," said attorney Brad Smith.
One example is Henry Louis Wallace. In 1997, Wallace was convicted in Mecklenburg County and sentenced to death for raping and killing nine women.
The Supreme Court denied Wallace's last appeal in 2010 and an execution date was about to be set when Wallace filed a Racial Justice Act claim. Plans to execute him immediately stopped and have not restarted.
"It's going to be quite the burden on my office and a drain on the resources," Murray said.