I am saddened by the legislation (SB306) recently filed in the NC Senate to resume executions, especially since the bill sponsor, Sen. Thom Goolsby, claims to be working to achieve justice for victims.
Not all family members of murder victims feel like the death penalty is an effective tool for achieving justice for our loved ones and ourselves. District Attorneys choose to try only a small fraction of murder cases as capital cases. From 1977 to 2006, only 2.5 percent of murderers were sentenced to death. Two out of three death sentences are overturned on appeal.
So only a few families are ever in a position to anticipate the execution of the person who killed their loved one. And that anticipation can drag on for years through many appeals, with the painful memories of the murder revived at every hearing.
Because capital cases cost three to five times as much as non-capital cases, North Carolina invests millions of dollars each year to respond to just a small fraction of the murders committed. The death penalty system consumes funds that could be spent meeting the needs of many more surviving family members in more meaningful ways.
Murder victims’ family members could benefit from independent advocates who would explain the legal process and serve as a liaison with law enforcement and prosecution personnel without being employed by either. Survivors would also benefit from financial assistance for funeral expenses, time lost from work and counseling.
Also troubling is the idea that the death of another human being could somehow provide justice, closure or peace for the grieving family members of a murder victim. The desire for revenge and retribution is a normal response to losing a loved one to murder. The State has taken on the responsibility of imposing that retribution. But why do we consider it more civilized for the State to take a life for a life than for a surviving family member to do so? Violence perpetuates violence.
As the sister of a murder victim, I have tried to imagine being the sibling or parent of a person about to be executed. How horrible that must be, knowing the date and time your loved one will be killed by the government and not being able to do anything about it. The man who killed my sister was not sentenced to death, but I can tell you his execution would not have brought me any sense of peace or closure.
In the years since North Carolina’s last execution in 2006, six states have abolished the death penalty and the murder rate in North Carolina has dropped. Yet, Sen. Goolsby wants to take our state back in time and resume executions. It is time for North Carolina to abandon this false promise of justice and to find other ways support their victims’ families.