by Matt Saldaña
Minority House Leader Paul Stam (R-Wake) was silent during yesterday's floor debate leading up the House's 61-54 vote to approve the Racial Justice Act, which would prevent the execution of defendants who can prove race was an underlying factor in the decision to seek, or impose, the death penalty at the time of their trial.
But today, Stam fired off a press release (PDF, 142 KB) saying, essentially, that the blood of future murder victims is on the hands of the 61 Democrats who voted for the bill.
Note that's future victims--meaning they do not actually exist. Nevertheless, Stam said these hypothetical victims, which he estimates to be "150+," are "primarily African American."
Stam's figure arrived, through several permutations, from a University of Houston study that claims to be able to calculate the number of likely murders that occurred as a direct result of Texas' temporary moratorium. The study's principal argument is based on the claim--in dispute among criminologists and social scientists--that the death penalty acts as a deterrent on crime. Stam prorated the study's finding of moratorium-induced deaths--90--for North Carolina's population and the comparative length of its ongoing moratorium, in place due to legal challenges since August 2006.
In a May 2009 press release (PDF, 146 KB) co-authored by Sens. Phil Berger and Eddie Goodall, Stam claimed that each year North Carolina has had a de facto moratorium, 25 additional murders have resulted, totaling 75 murders. Yet in today's press release--which carried only Stam's name--that figure doubled, to 50 murders per year, as a "conservative estimate." Without any factual basis, Stam then estimated that the Racial Justice Act would extend the state's de facto moratorium by "3 to 4 additional years," directly leading to more than 150 additional victims.
"We do not know their names, yet, and may never know their names because this is only the excess number of homicides caused by this moratorium," Stam said. "But they are real people whose families will grieve over their deaths."
Multiple studies have shown no correlation between a death penalty and a deterrent to homicide. According to FBI statistics over the past 20 years, states without a death penalty have had consistently lower murder rates than states that do—although this data does not necessarily prove or disprove any correlation.
In addition, Stam greatly exaggerated the estimated financial impact of the Racial Justice Act. In a fiscal note attached to the bill, the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) predicted additional costs would total between $2.4 million and $6.2 million within the first year, consisting mostly of defendants already on death row, who have one year to file a claim. The N.C. Department of Justice estimated the additional costs for the 163 defendants on death row to be $4 million. By contrast, Stam claimed the bill would cost "tens of millions of dollars," due to additional hearings expenses for these defendants alone.
In its fiscal analysis, AOC noted that “to the extent a pretrial hearing resulted in a ruling that causes a case to proceed non-capitally, where it might otherwise have proceeded capitally, the subsequent costs for that case would be considerably less.” N.C. Indigent Defense Services estimated that the bill would ultimately save the state money on capital trial costs.
"There are few winners by this legislation," Stam said in the release. "The 163 blood thirsty criminals convicted of first degree murder now on death row are the principal beneficiaries."
Accompanying the release are e-mails and letters from District Attorneys who oppose the bill. In response to the Racial Justice Act's fiscal note, Forsyth County DA Thomas Keith wrote about how difficult it would be for his office to locate files (PDF, 89 KB) on defendants sentenced to death, which he said in some cases were "dumped unceremoniously in boxes since we never can get enough notebooks and had to recycle all the notebooks after the trial was over."
Keith added that his prosecutors are not "math whizzes," have "no institutional experience on statistics," and would have trouble cross-examining a statistician presenting a Racial Justice Act claim.
"We can't do any more than we are doing now unless you want us to give away the courthouse or hire more staff," he wrote. "When would I hear 11 RJA motions?"