Hunt, Gell Urge N.C. Legislators to Approve Moratorium

10:58 AM, May 18, 2004   |    comments
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Two men wrongly convicted of murder -- one of them sent to death row -- urged state legislators Tuesday to pass a two-year suspension of executions in North Carolina.

Darryl Hunt and Alan Gell, both of whom have been cleared of charges and freed from prison in the past six months, came to the Legislative Building to urge the House to take up a moratorium bill this year.

A bill that passed the Senate last year would study the fairness of how capital punishment is carried out during the moratorium.

"I think we do have some more innocent people on death row," said Gell, who was on death row before allegations of prosecutorial misconduct surfaced. He was acquitted of murder earlier this year after a second trial.

"I personally want to see the moratorium so we can save their lives," he said.

Gell and Hunt, who was in prison for more than 18 years before he was released in December, were among hundreds of moratorium supporters who lobbied legislators Tuesday.

House co-speakers Jim Black and Richard Morgan have said the issue probably won't come to a vote in their chamber as they try to avoid controversial legislation during this year's short budget session.

Moratorium backers produced survey results Monday designed to counter the idea that the measure was controversial. A poll from a nonpartisan polling firm found that 63 percent of adults surveyed support a two-year pause on executions to allow lawmakers to study its fairness.

A majority of those surveyed said a candidate's support for the moratorium wouldn't make a difference in whether they voted for the person.

Hunt said he found it hard to believe that any legislator would think about political expediency when life and death are at stake.

"You would rather think about an election rather than do the right thing," he said at a news conference. "You want to get elected but you don't want to save an innocent life. That's hard."

The state Senate in North Carolina became the first legislative chamber in the South last year to approve a moratorium.

The push has gained momentum since then with the exonerations of Gell and Hunt.

Gell originally was convicted and sentenced to death in 1998 for a Bertie County murder three years earlier. The conviction and punishment were thrown out in 2002 after state prosecutors were found to have withheld evidence that may have cleared him.

Hunt was twice convicted in the 1984 murder of a Winston-Salem newspaper copy editor. He was freed in December when DNA evidence led police to charge another man in the crime. Hunt was pardoned by Gov. Mike Easley last month.

Legislators -- all Democrats -- who attended the Tuesday news conference urged lobbyists to talk with undecided colleagues to attempt to persuade them.

Rep. Larry Womble, D-Forsyth, said moratorium supporters are close to getting the 61 votes needed for passage, but declined to say how many they currently have.

"We would not be here (today) unless we thought we were very close to bringing this to the floor," he said.

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