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The Daily Tar Heel

Legislators to Consider Moratorium in 2001

State legislators are divided on the future of a proposed statewide moratorium on the death penalty that the N.C. General Assembly likely will debate early next year.

A legislative study committee, charged with examining capital punishment, unanimously recommended last week that the state ban executions of the mentally handicapped and temporarily halt all executions.

The committee's final meeting will be Dec. 12 to approve the moratorium and other proposals, one of which would discourage prosecutors in capital cases from selecting or dismissing jurors based on their race.

The General Assembly will vote on the committee's proposals when it reconvenes in January.

Sen. Frank Ballance, D-Bertie, chairman of the study committee, said the moratorium would halt executions until any questions of fairness - including allegations of racism in the judicial system - are solved.

"We are recommending that there be a halt in as so much time as to ensure that innocent peoples' lives are not being jeopardized," Ballance said.

He said committee members also will push for the Racial Justice Act, which would ban executions in cases in which race was determined to be a factor in sentencing.

But Rep. Sam Ellis, R-Wake, said he opposes halting executions because he believes capital punishment itself is not flawed - even though there might be some problems in the judicial process.

Ellis said he supports a thorough examination of the judicial process, which will identify any problems within the system.

"We need to go to the judicial process and determine why justice is not being served," he said. "We need to restore people's confidence that there is justice."

Several of the state's municipalities - including Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Charlotte and Winston-Salem - have called for a statewide moratorium on the death penalty.

Ballance said he believes the municipalities' calls for moratoriums indicate strong statewide interest in the issue.

"I think that's a good barometer of how people feel about the issue in North Carolina and across the nation," he said.

Carrboro was the first N.C. municipality to call for a moratorium. Board of Aldermen member Jacquelyn Gist said there is a strong need to reform the state judicial system.

But Gist said the measure will take time before it is approved by the General Assembly because many people in the state still support capital punishment. "I don't think this is the type of thing that happens quickly," she said.

Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, who supports a moratorium, also said the measure might face problems in the legislature. "It's gonna be difficult to garner a lot of support."

Gist, who proposed the motion in Carrboro, said support for a moratorium should not be divided among those who support or oppose the death penalty, but from those seeking reform within the system.

She said, "You don't have to be against the death penalty to support the moratorium."

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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