Tweet misses target

February 9, 2012 

A courtroom in Fayetteville is the arena where a battle over the fairness of North Carolina's death penalty is unfolding. The Legislative Building in Raleigh is the hot-air factory where opponents of the Racial Justice Act seemingly will say anything - regardless of how reality-challenged - to influence the death penalty debate.

The so-called RJA stipulates that if a condemned inmate can show a pattern of racial bias in prosecutors' handling of his case, his sentence will be converted to life in prison without parole. The first such claim is being heard in Cumberland County Superior Court, filed on behalf of convicted murderer Marcus Robinson.

District attorneys have argued that the law could, under certain scenarios and despite statutory language to the contrary, make an inmate now on death row eligible for parole. That claim has been echoed by Republicans in the General Assembly, who tried to gut the law, only to be blocked by Gov. Beverly Perdue's veto.

Legal arguments against the law are far-fetched, but opponents are free to make them. Where opponents should have the decency to draw the line is against arguments that are irrelevant and misleading. How disappointing that Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger would stoop to that level.

Maybe it was Berger's staff who made the mistake, carried away with the thrill of launching zingers on Twitter. But a Friday afternoon tweet from the Republican senator's office tried to link an inmate's removal from death row to the RJA when there was no link at all.

Marvin Williams had his death sentence vacated under U.S. Supreme Court guidelines because he has been judged mentally retarded. But according to the Berger office tweet, "Exactly why we said RJA is dangerous."

Berger, an attorney, knows better than that. The fact that his son is a prosecutor surely hasn't skewed his thinking, has it? Actually, RJA supporters simply want prosecutors to be honest and fair. And it shouldn't be too much to ask that prosecutors and their legislative allies be honest and fair if they want to criticize the law.

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