North Carolina cities join push to halt executions

By: Jonathan Wexler

On August 3, Durham became the third city in North Carolina and fifth in the country to approve a resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty.

The Durham City Council meeting was packed with 70 people wearing "Moratorium Now!" stickers, who cheered when the resolution passed by an 8-3 vote. "I don't think they thought a grassroots abolition movement could have so much support," said Geoffrey Mock of North Carolinians Against the Death Penalty. Two smaller cities, Carrboro and Chapel Hill, passed similar resolutions in June.

The recent votes came on the heels of a State Superior Court decision in May that threw out the murder conviction of Charles Wayne Munsey, a Wilkesboro man who spent three years on death row -- and is still in prison. Judge Thomas Ross ruled that the state's key witness against Munsey lied on the stand and that the confession of another man to the murder in question "probably is true." That confession was withheld by prosecutors in order to nail Munsey.

This case exposed that "justice" in North Carolina isn't a search for the truth as much as it's a search for someone to fill a cell. There was never any physical evidence on Munsey, only the testimony of another inmate who was supposedly at Central Prison in Raleigh at the same time as Munsey. But Munsey's attorneys discovered that there was no evidence to show that this "witness" was ever transferred to Central.

As Ken Rose, a lawyer with the Center For Death Penalty Litigation in Durham, said, "Time after time, the state has hidden important information at trial that it was supposed to show... It had to cheat to get its convictions."

North Carolinians aren't the only ones who don't want to pay the cost of "justice." Momentum for a moratorium is building across the U.S.

In Illinois, the release of Anthony Porter, the 11th innocent man to be freed from the state's death row in the last 12 years, sparked a push to halt executions. Even Chicago's Mayor Daley called for a halt in executions. In Nebraska, the state legislature voted this spring in favor of a moratorium on executions -- although the legislation was vetoed by the governor.

In North Carolina, State Sen. Ellie Kinaird has introduced a bill that would stop executions for two years while the state conducts a study to determine whether the death penalty is fair. But the measure won't see action for nearly a year.

Activists are staying organized. All three cities that passed moratorium resolutions are in the "Triangle" area, so plans include getting resolutions passed in other areas of the state. The fight promises to heat up this fall with the possibility that North Carolina will execute its first Black inmate since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. We have to step up the pressure to get more of North Carolina's politicians talking moratorium.