Margaret Toman was at the Charlotte City Council meeting last week, part of a small contingent who came from the Triangle to listen to the debate over a resolution in favor of a death-penalty moratorium in North Carolina. Opponents, including family members of crime victims, were tearful, passionate and angry, Toman says. But the advocates were equally passionate, fearful the goal they'd been working toward for more than a year might slip away. After several lawyers, including James Ferguson, a prominent criminal attorney who is black, got up to urge passage of the resolution, Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory shot back that they reminded him of O.J. Simpson's "dream team." That was the low point. The high point came when the Council voted 8-3 in favor of the moratorium, more than the two-thirds needed to overcome McCrory's subsequent veto.
Thus, unless there's a change in the vote when the Council returns to the issue this month, Charlotte will join Durham, Chapel Hill and Carrboro on the list of pro-moratorium governments. With North Carolina's biggest city in favor, attention will turn to the second biggest, and the state capital, Raleigh.
That's why Toman was in Charlotte, to see how it's done. A program manager at the Methodist Home for Children, she's co-chair--with Chris Fitzsimon, head of the Common Sense Foundation--of a new group called the Wake County Coalition for a Moratorium Now. Organizers have been meeting since the spring, and next week they'll be launching a public drive for support and petition signatures aimed at getting the Raleigh City Council to vote on the issue next year.
Toman says you can't predict in advance who'll be for the moratorium and who won't. "This is an issue that cuts all over the map." A lot of people with no fixed opinion about the death penalty, she notes, and even some who support it, are in favor of a time-out while questions are addressed about whether an innocent person could be executed by mistake, and whether minorities and the mentally retarded are the most likely to get it. She herself is "a complete novice, not a leader" on any other political issue, but she's been an opponent of capital punishment for many years and visits an inmate on death row in Central Prison.
The Wake Coalition meets twice monthly, on the second Tuesday at the N.C. Academy of Trial Lawyers, 1312 Annapolis Dr., and the fourth Tuesday at Christian Faith Baptist Church, 509 Hilltop Dr. Both meetings are at 7 p.m. The group works with, but is not a chapter of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty. Toman can be reached at mtoman@mhfc. com or at 832-5489.