Politics & Government

Fact check: Have Cooper and Stein worked to delay executions, like Berger says?

NC state Sen. Phil Berger acknowledges a question from a reporter at the legislature in Raleigh on May 31, 2016. Berger recently accused Gov. Roy Cooper and Josh Stein, the attorney general, of imposing a de-facto moratorium on the death penalty.
NC state Sen. Phil Berger acknowledges a question from a reporter at the legislature in Raleigh on May 31, 2016. Berger recently accused Gov. Roy Cooper and Josh Stein, the attorney general, of imposing a de-facto moratorium on the death penalty. cliddy@newsobserver.com

The national Democratic Party opposes the death penalty, so surely North Carolina’s top Democrats are fighting to end it.

Right?

That’s what top Republicans in the North Carolina legislature would have people believe about Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein, both Democrats.

Phil Berger, the state Senate leader, and Tim Moore, the state House speaker, released a joint statement on Dec. 8 that accuses Cooper and Stein of standing in the way of executions in North Carolina. They lobbed their claim amid news that the district attorney in Pasquotank County will seek the death penalty for four inmates accused of killing three state correctional officers and a manager in a prison rehabilitative work program during an attempted escape in October.

Capital punishment is on the law books in North Carolina and Berger says there are currently 143 inmates on death row. However, there hasn’t been an execution since 2006.

Berger and Moore contend that’s because Cooper and Stein have failed to take legal action to counter court decisions blocking executions while lawsuits challenging the fairness of execution practices remain in court.

Berger, specifically, was quoted in the statement as saying: “For over a decade, death penalty opponents like Roy Cooper and Josh Stein have imposed a de-facto moratorium on capital punishment in North Carolina, using every legal trick possible – including inaction – to delay death sentences handed down by juries and deny justice to victims.”

He continued: “No matter what they say, Cooper’s and Stein’s indifference and failure to fight the moratorium endangers the lives of prison employees in close proximity to hardened murderers with nothing left to lose, who see no possibility they will face execution for killing again.”

Do Cooper and Stein oppose the death penalty? Are they using the legal system to block executions, as Berger and Moore imply?

To find out why PolitiFact rated the claim Mostly False, go to PolitiFact.com.

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht

PolitiFact NC

Speaker: Phil Berger, state Senate leader

Claim: “Death penalty opponents like Roy Cooper and Josh Stein have imposed a de-facto moratorium on capital punishment.”

Our ruling: Mostly False. Berger’s office provided no evidence showing that Cooper and Stein have sided with death penalty opponents in court. Rather, Berger pointed to Stein’s vote on one bill and, in a vague claim, said the duo should’ve pressured the courts to expedite their review of death penalty cases.

It’s fair to criticize how Cooper and Stein spend their resources and tie Stein to the Racial Justice Act. But those arguments alone don’t prove that they oppose the death penalty or have used legal “tricks” to delay executions. We rate this claim Mostly False.

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