Getting the phone call that Sen. Tom Goolsby (R-Wilmington) was going to announce a bill pertaining to the Death Penalty and the Racial Justice Act made my heart race. I thought, “Is this really the beginning of the end?” The first thing I did was to call the Lowry and Turner families, who have been affected dramatically by both the moratorium on the death penalty and the Racial Justice Act, to let them know there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. The Lowry and Turner families are just two of the families whose loved ones’ murders had their sentences commuted to life without parole by Judge Greg Weeks.
Goolsby filed SB 306 to end the de facto moratorium on the death penalty here in NC. There are currently 152 inmates on death row, yet in North Carolina we have not had an execution since 2006. Families who thought justice would be served are still waiting for the horror story to end. In a press release, Goolsby said , “We have a moral obligation to ensure death-row criminals convicted of the most heinous crimes imaginable finally face justice. Victims’ families have suffered for far too long. It’s time to stop the legal wrangling and bring them the peace and closure they deserve.”
SB 306 begins to answer legal concerns that doctors, nurses, and pharmacists faced when dealing with executions. The participants would not have to fear punishment from state boards anymore. There are many parts of the bill that committees are still debating, but under Section 5 that Racial Justice Act would be repealed.
Section 5(b) states:
The intent and purpose of this section, and its sole effect, is to remove the use of statistics to prove purposeful discrimination in a specific case.
Section 5(d) states:
Except as otherwise provided in this subsection, this section is retroactive and applies to any motion for appropriate relief filed pursuant to Article 101 of Chapter 15A of the General Statutes prior to the effective date of this act. All motions filed pursuant to Article 101 of Chapter 15A of the General Statutes prior to the effective date of this act are void; however, this section does not apply to any case in which there is a final order issued by a court of competent jurisdiction, issued prior to the effective date of this act, which resentenced a petitioner to life imprisonment without parole pursuant to the provisions of Article 101 of Chapter 15A of the General Statutes.
This would become effective when the bill passes. What does this mean for families? Unfortunately the cases that have already been heard and decided by Judge Weeks will not be repealed. The good news going forward is that families will not have to go through any more Racial Justice Act hearings if this bill passes.