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From: Taoss - Sherry Swiney 
To: PATRICK Crusade 
Sent: Thursday, May 06, 2004 5:23 AM
Subject: [patrickcrusade] Push is on for NC DP moratorium

2004-05-03 | Fayetteville [NC] Observer

Ex-Inmates: Fix system

By Kevin Maurer
Staff writer

PINEHURST - Darryl Hunt and Alan Gell said Sunday that the state's death penalty system is broken and needs to be fixed before an innocent man is executed.

Hunt and Gell were each convicted of crimes they did not commit. Gell was on death row for nine years before being released in February. Hunt spent 19 years in prison before DNA evidence pointed lawmen to another suspect. 

About 100 people attended a forum Sunday to discuss North Carolina's death penalty system and the need for a two-year moratorium. The meeting, held at the Village Chapel in Pinehurst, was sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the Sandhills Fellowship of Churches, Church Women United and the Moore County Committee for a Moratorium.

In the past few years, there have been several cases of death row inmates in North Carolina getting new trials because of problems with the way their cases were handled by prosecutors.

Members of the state House are considering a bill that calls for a two-year moratorium of the death penalty. The Senate passed it last year.

The bill calls for a halt to all executions to determine the extent of problems in the justice system. The study would look at several areas, including the qualifications of defense lawyers, the appeals process, racial issues and misconduct by prosecutors.

It is unclear if the bill could be voted on this session. Forum organizers said they hope events like the one Sunday will pressure legislators to take action this session.

''It is not an issue of if you are for or against the death penalty, it is for a fair and proper resolution," said Joan Barriage, president of the League of Women Voters.

Hunt, 39, said what happened to him and Gell is not unique. He said that while researching his own appeals, he saw inmates who suffered similar injustices.

Hunt was convicted of the rape and murder of Deborah Sykes in 1985.

Prosecutors withheld DNA evidence that proved that he did not commit the crime. He was freed in December and pardoned in April.

''We represent the face and not the number of the persons that are actually innocent," Hunt said. ''The sad thing about this is that they know the problem exists. Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder can pick it up. If you know it is a problem, fix the problem."

Gell, 29, was convicted in 1998 of killing Allen Ray Jenkins. Prosecutors failed to give Gell's lawyer witness statements that showed Jenkins was alive while Gell was in jail for another crime. During the appeals process, Gell's new lawyer uncovered the statements. Gell was retried in February and found not guilty.

Gell said if the moratorium only saves one innocent man, that is enough. ''I would hate to have our state not worry about one man, because that one could have been me.''

There are about 190 inmates on North Carolina's death row.

Supporters of the moratorium argue there are few lawyers qualified to represent the defendants. More than 35 inmates on death row were represented by lawyers who were either disbarred or disciplined, according to data from the North Carolina State Bar.

They also argue that the death penalty is not administered fairly.

Small numbers

North Carolina averages 600 murders a year. Only a handful of defendants are tried and placed on death row.

''The reality of it is that you don't necessarily get Ted Bundy on death row," Mary Pollard said. She is a lawyer with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham and represented Gell during his appeal.

One of the reforms that is needed, she said, is a narrow definition of which crimes warrant the death penalty. Unlike some states, North Carolina lacks a central decision-maker who determines whether the death penalty should be sought. 

''An aggressive DA can seek the penalty on a whole host of areas. It's arbitrary. It is a lottery," Pollard said. 

Critics of the proposed moratorium argue that it is a veiled threat to abolish the death penalty in North Carolina.

Pollard said that is not true.

She said the moratorium would allow for open discussion without risking the lives of possibly innocent men.

Frank and Joan Zamaroni said they attended the forum to get more information about the moratorium. The Zamaronis are retired and live in Whispering Pines.

Frank Zamaroni said that with two documented cases of innocent men being convicted, a two-year moratorium is needed. ''I think it is time to step back and look at it," he said.

Staff writer Kevin Maurer can be reached at maurerk@fayettevillenc.com or 486-3587.