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North Carolina governor vetoes repeal of Racial Justice Act

(Reuters) - North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue on Wednesday vetoed an effort by legislators to gut a two-year-old law that lets death row inmates appeal their sentences on the basis of racial bias.

The state's Racial Justice Act, which Perdue signed into law in 2009, allows prisoners sentenced to death to use statistics to determine if race was a factor in their sentencing.

The measure requires judges to reduce a death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole if the original sentence is proved to have been handed out with any degree of racial bias.

"I am -- and always will be -- a strong supporter of the death penalty," the Democratic governor said in a statement.

"However, because the death penalty is the ultimate punishment, it is essential that it be carried out fairly and that the process not be infected with prejudice based on race."

Republican State Representative Paul Stam, one of the authors of the bill to repeal the law, said more than 150 people are on death row and all but three, white and black, have filed motions under the 2009 law.

He argued it essentially functions as a moratorium on the death penalty while inmates file their appeals.

"We've had no executions since 2006," he said. "If this veto stands, we won't have another one for another four or five or six years. What deterrent can the death penalty be if no one is executed for 11 or 12 years?"

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jerry Norton)

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