On Monday, a Guilford County judge stayed the execution of Charles Walker for the 1992 murder of Tito Davidson.
Superior Court Judge John Craig made the right decision. Walker's execution should have been stayed - and all other state executions should be delayed to allow for a two-year death penalty moratorium so officials can examine the system.
In the wake of the case of Alan Gell, who was on death row for four years before he eventually was acquitted of murder, the state should take two years to study the process of trying capital cases to ensure that the system is operating in a just and fair manner.
The circumstances surrounding Walker's fate have come into question. Authorities never actually found Davidson's body, and there was no physical evidence - no blood or DNA that linked Walker to Davidson's murder. Craig agreed with defense lawyers who claimed that the testimony of Walker's co-defendants was unreliable.
This isn't to say that public criticism of this individual case is particularly convincing. Walker had a history of violent crime, and he had an established motive based on a drug deal gone awry. Though the lack of a body is perplexing, a jury of Walker's peers unanimously agreed that he was guilty of first-degree murder - and a decade of opportunity for new evidence to arise has produced nothing that would exonerate him.
The cause for concern regarding this execution is the same reason North Carolinians should be concerned about all convicts sentenced to death in this state: The system used to sentence capital offenders might be flawed, and the state risks using the only irreversible punishment on innocents.
There's certainly nothing to be lost if N.C. lawmakers put into place a two-year moratorium to give state officials enough time to make sure they are not executing the innocent. There is no excuse for the state to put to death anyone who didn't commit the crime of which he was accused, and officials must take every step to make sure it does not happen. If that means delaying the execution of those who are the most violent of criminals, then so be it.
Until the state can say for sure that its justice system condemns only the guilty, officials should follow Craig's lead and take pause - a two-year pause.
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