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Kirk Kovach: Abolish death penalty to prevent one from being wrongfully killed

By Kirk Kovach

Max Weber, a pre-eminent 19th-century political scientist, described the state as “a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.”

In no way is that more clearly presented than in the exercise of capital punishment. The death penalty is an anachronism, a relic of the past that ought to be left in the past.

The United States stands alone in the West as the only nation to continue executing its own citizens. Many of the states within our nation have ended the practice, but those that continue it still execute inmates regularly.

But new revelations in separate cases last week in North Carolina should give us pause, as they are indicative of the inescapable flaw of the death penalty: innocent people die. In Raleigh, James Blackmon recently had all of his charges dismissed. He spent the past 30 years incarcerated for the 1979 murder of a college student. He didn’t do it.

The only evidence against him was his own confession, solicited while he sat as a mentally ill patient in a Raleigh hospital.

During interviews with police, “he was wearing a Superman cape,” while he “also spoke of being able to cause earthquakes and compared himself to Dracula.” The only thing James was guilty of was being “eager to please,” as his attorney put it.

In a similar case in Greenville, Dontae Sharpe was released after serving 24 years for a 1994 murder. A key witness in the trial recanted her testimony, throwing a wrench into the narrative of the crime. In these cases, the men were not slated for execution. It is a miracle that they weren’t.

In North Carolina, 142 people are on death row. Of them, 63% are minorities. That number alone should give us pause, but another questions arises: how did those convictions take place?

The Center for Death Penalty Litigation reports that an inordinate number of black jurors were struck than white jurors. That is to say, all things the same, if a juror was black, he was more likely removed than an equally qualified white juror.

The fundamental idea behind our criminal justice system, a jury of our peers, is often abridged.

The men recently released were not on death row, but plenty more are.

As a pure matter of statistics, there are people poised to be executed who did not commit a crime, and plenty more who have already died at the hands of the state.

The case for abolishing the death penalty is typically argued by liberal-leaning voices in American politics, but the tide seems to be changing in that regard.

In New Orleans, Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty is holding its first meeting. Criminal justice reform is becoming less of a third rail to discuss in both major parties. The thinking is clear: how can we execute someone with the prospect that he may be innocent?

For many, admission of guilt is enough to justify a sentence, but we see in the case of James Blackmon, for example, that these admissions are not always reliable. The primary concern of the state in this regard should be to protect its citizens.

Life behind bars keeps violent offenders out of communities, but it also gives technology time to advance and provides more ways to exonerate those imprisoned wrongfully.

One person wrongfully killed is one too many.

Kirk Kovach is from Rowan County and writes for politicsnc.com.

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