North Carolina’s Senate voted yesterday to halt executions for two years while the state’s death penalty system is fixed. Most senators said they still favored capital punishment. The Raleigh News & Observer reported that the 29-21 vote capped a stirring debate with Bible quotes, cursing and a last-minute conversion in favor of the moratorium by Senate leader Marc Basnight, a Democrat who said his faith in the reliability of the death penalty was shaken.
The moratorium measure now goes to the House, where a fierce debate is expected. Gov. Mike Easley, a death-penalty supporter and former prosecutor who opposes a moratorium, wouldn’t say whether he would veto it. If the moratorium becomes law, North Carolina would become the third state in recent years to stop executing convicted murderers while it examines how fairly it carries out the death penalty.
Last fall, North Carolina Chief Justice Beverly Lake Jr. created an Actual Innocence Commission, and two death sentences were recently overturned because prosecutors or police had withheld evidence.