N. Carolina GOP sees chance to restart executions in debate

Anti-death penalty forces are pushing the legislature in its final days to pass a law that would allow capital murder defendants to challenge prosecutors' decisions as racially biased. But to get such a law, death penalty foes may have to accept a move to restart executions, which have been stalled for more than a year.

Senate Democrats are talking among themselves about trying to pass a measure aimed at addressing racial bias in death penalty cases. The House has already passed a bill that would allow murder defendants to use statistical evidence to suggest that race is a significant factor in prosecutors' seeking the death penalty or in juries' imposing it. The state NAACP president is prodding senators to approve the measure.

If Senate Democrats move forward with it, Republicans see a chance to get something they've been fighting for — a provision that may allow the state to resume executions, which have been stalled for more than a year partly because the Department of Correction can't find doctors who'll take part in them, as the law requires. Last year, the N.C. Medical Board adopted an ethics policy that forbids doctors from doing anything more than being present at executions.

Sen. Phil Berger, the chamber's Republican leader, said the racial bias bill may allow the GOP to add a proposal that frees medical personnel to participate in executions without fear of disciplinary action.

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