SHELBY (AP) â€” District Attorney Richard â€œRickâ€ Shaffer has resigned from Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdueâ€™s crime policy panel because she vetoed a bill that would have essentially repealed a 2009 law focused on capital punishment and racial bias.
Shaffer, a Democrat who prosecutes crimes in Cleveland and Lincoln counties, wrote Perdue telling her he was leaving the Governorâ€™s Crime Commission because of her veto on changes sought by nearly all of the stateâ€™s district attorneys to the Racial Justice Act.
Perdue said in her Dec. 14 veto message that she blocked the bill approved by the Republican-led Legislature because she said thereâ€™s no place for racial discrimination in determining who receives the ultimate punishment.
In a letter dated the next day, Shaffer said the law is being used by death-row prisoners who should have no claims for racial discrimination, particularly cases where white defendants were sentenced by white juries for killing white victims.
Nearly all of the 158 prisoners on death row are seeking relief under the law. Shaffer also questioned the authenticity of Perdueâ€™s support for capital punishment with her veto. Prosecutors have said the law results in delays that will all but create a permanent death penalty moratorium.
â€œYou no longer have any moral authority to suggest that you strongly support the death penalty,â€ Shaffer wrote in the letter, first reported in the News & Record of Greensboro.
The 2009 law created a new kind of court hearing where prisoners can use statistics to make their case to a judge, who must reduce a death sentence to life in prison without parole if itâ€™s determined race was a significant factor in imposing the penalty.
The veto also will delay the right of murder victims to receive justice and potentially could allow death row inmates to be released on parole, according to Shaffer: â€œIf the worst case scenario takes place, you will have helped unleash violent murderers back into society,â€ he wrote.
Perdue and other supporters of the law have argued repeatedly against that idea. Perdueâ€™s office cited Tuesday an article co-authored by former Chief Justice Burley Mitchell buttressing the argument that no death row prisoner will go free because of the 2009 law, even if their crimes were committed before sentencing rules changed in 1994.
â€œPerdue appreciates Mr. Shafferâ€™s service,â€ Perdue Press Secretary Chris Mackey said in a statement. Mackey noted that Mitchell â€œcalled the idea that anyone will get out of jail as a result of the Racial Justice Act a â€˜misapprehensionâ€™ that â€˜is simply not true.â€™â€
The governor officially issued her proclamation Tuesday to call the General Assembly back to Raleigh on Jan. 4 for a session to decide whether to attempt to override her veto or let it stand. Perdue was required by the state constitution to hold the reconvened session.
The permanent 44-member crime commission advises the governor and the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety on crime and justice issues and includes heads of state agencies, law enforcement and court leaders, legislators and other citizens.