RALEIGH, N.C. WRAL — Gov Pat McCrory's signature Wednesday repealed a landmark law that had allowed convicted murderers to have their sentences reduced to life in prison if they could prove racial bias influenced the outcome of their cases.
McCrory signed a repeal of the 2009 Racial Justice Act, which both proponents and critics say will restart the death penalty in a state that hasn't executed an inmate since 2006.
McCrory's final signature followed months of debate between Democrats and Republicans on the law's intent and the way it has played out. Republicans say it was so poorly crafted that it has allowed nearly all of the state's 156 death-row inmates to launch appeals under the law regardless of their race. They say the law impedes the will of unanimous jury decisions.
McCrory raised similar complaints in a statement:
"The policy implementation of the law was seriously flawed. Nearly every person on death row, regardless of race, has appealed their death sentence under the Racial Justice Act," he said. "The state's district attorneys are nearly unanimous in their bi-partisan conclusion that the Racial Justice Act created a judicial loophole to avoid the death penalty and not a path to justice."
But Democrats argue there's plenty of evidence that those juries were racially biased.
They cite a Michigan State study of North Carolina that found evidence of prosecutors striking black people from capital cases at more than twice the rate of others over two decades.
They also point to the 2012 decisions of a Cumberland County judge to reduce the sentences of four convicted murderers on racial grounds. Three of those rulings came after a rollback of the act that restricted the use of statistics to prove prejudice and required other forms of evidence.
The repeal of the Racial Justice Act was one of 56 bills McCrory signed into law Wednesday. He also approved a bill raising interest rates on installment loans and another measure banning e-cigarette sales to minors.