Publisher's note: The author of this post is Barry Smith, who is an associate editor for the Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.
Group worries about mistaken convictions, botched executions
RALEIGH - A group of conservatives opposed to the death penalty have started raising awareness of their cause to state leaders. They hosted a press conference September 22 at the Legislative Building, hoping the conversation eventually can reach the level it achieved in Nebraska, which repealed capital punishment earlier this year.
The group, North Carolina Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, brought in Nebraska state Sen. Colby Coash, a Republican who spearheaded that state's efforts to end the death penalty.
"I used to be a pretty enthusiastic supporter of the death penalty," Coash said at the press conference. As a college student in the 1990s, he said he went to a state penitentiary where an execution was about to occur.
"In the parking lot, there was a party," Coash said. "There was barbecue and a band, and they were counting down the execution like you might count down New Year's Eve."
Coash continued. "It was a sight that stuck with me," he said. "I said to myself at that time, this isn't the way it's supposed to be. We're not supposed to be celebrating death in this way."
He said he begin to look at his values as a conservative, and found that they didn't align with the death penalty. He said the death penalty doesn't give victims' families closure, is costly, and is inefficient.
"If there were any other program that was as inefficient and costly as this program had been, Nebraska would have gotten rid of it a long time ago," Coash said.
Rep. Jon Hardister, R-Guilford, said that he opposes the death penalty, citing many of the same issues Coash discussed.
"There have been numerous cases in which an individual on death row was exonerated," Hardister said. "There have been several botched executions across the country. This raises questions in my mind about the wisdom of capital punishment."
Hardister said that as a conservative, he didn't trust the government to carry out executions efficiently and is afraid that mistakes could be made in the court system.
"For these reasons, I've arrived at the conclusion that the death penalty should be repealed and replaced with life in prison without parole," Hardister said. He added that it's an emotional issue. "But I think it's a conversation that we should have."
Hardister hasn't filed a bill repealing the death penalty, and didn't sign on to one introduced earlier in the House. He said that repealing the death penalty won't occur overnight.
Hardister said it's an issue that will have to build support over time.
Two other Republicans spoke at Tuesday's press conference held at the Legislative Building: Raleigh attorney Ernie Pearson and Nash County GOP Chairman Mark Edwards.
Edwards said he thought the issue would find support among a number of groups in the Republican coalition, including libertarians, fiscal conservatives, and those believing in the sanctity of life.
Pearson said that his Christian faith led him to oppose the death penalty.
"We do not have the right to take away a life, to take away God's opportunity to redeem one of his children," Pearson said. "It's that simple."