Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Henry Ell Frye, February 18 and 26, 1992. Interview C-0091. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Reacting to capital punishment as a legislator and as a judge

Frye offers a specific example of how the transition from legislator to judge impacted his reaction to certain issues. Focusing on his beliefs regarding capital punishment, Frye describes his general opposition and his efforts to challenge the law while he was a legislator in contrast to his duty to uphold laws as a judge.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Henry Ell Frye, February 18 and 26, 1992. Interview C-0091. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Back in the early 70's when you were in the Legislature you supported a bill to abolish the death penalty.
Do you find that your personal feelings affect your outlook on some of these death cases?
Well, that's an interesting question. Let's talk about that a little bit. I did introduce several bills at different times to abolish the death penalty in North Carolina. And my two basic arguments were, number one, that the statistics and the studies and all of those things have not shown that the homicide rate was really any different in those states which had the death penalty and those which didn't. The other thing was, the studies showed the death penalty was effectuated most often on the disadvantaged, whether that was because of color, race, that type of thing, or whether it was just poor and people who were outcasts and things of that nature. In other words, it was not administered in a fair way. Any rate, added to that the thing that death was final. And if you made a mistake, as has been done in history, there was no way of correcting it. But that failed continuously through the entire time that I was in the legislature. When the question first came up about my coming on the court, I had to think about the question of how I would deal with that. I concluded that as long as the death penalty is a part of the law, then it is my duty to uphold the law. So that's the approach I have taken to it. I have voted and gone along with opinions which have upheld the death penalty in North Carolina and will continue to do that where I feel they have been tried in accordance with the law and the law has been followed. So that's been my approach to it and as far as I know will continue to be it. I think the question as to whether it should be a part of the law is a policy question which is for the legislature. And the legislature has made it fairly clear, not fairly clear, it has made it clear in North Carolina as in some other states, that that is a part of our law. So any rate, the key now seems to be, to have it administered so that only those who commit the worst crimes get the death penalty. Without going into details, that's why we have the findings of aggravating, and mitigating circumstances, and the aggravating outweigh the mitigating and so forth. And it's about as good a system as you could get, if you're going to have the death penalty as part of the law in North Carolina.