It’s starting to feel like Groundhog Day in Wake County. Every year begins with a capital trial, and every year, the jury chooses life. Wake is the only county in the state where a defendant has been tried capitally every year for the past three years. We’re hoping that, next year, we can skip this annual ritual.
In 2017, N.C. juries rejected the death penalty, more innocent people were released from death row, and public support for executions fell to a 45-year low. As we look to 2018, let’s skip the outdated death penalty rhetoric and start looking for solutions that actually make people safer — like properly staffing prisons and supplying guards with working radios.
My client, Terry Ball, slipped away with barely a mention after living on N.C. death row for almost 25 years. I believe his life is worth remembering, and that his story, like all my clients’ stories, hold keys to understanding the origins of crime and our shared humanity with people labeled the worst of the worst.
A little-known aspect of the death penalty is its impact on jurors who must make life-and-death decisions without any of their usual support networks. For jurors, seeking trusted advice and doing independent research is an understandable impulse — but it’s also against the law.
The question our society should be asking is not: Do you believe that people who commit murders should be punished? The answer to that is obvious. The question that gets to the heart of the matter is: What’s the fairest, most efficient, and most effective way to punish people who commit the worst crimes? When you ask it that way, the death penalty is clearly not the answer.
Last week, the Supreme Court halted the execution of Keith Tharpe in Georgia because of a juror’s admission that he voted for death because he believed Tharpe was a “n—-r.” It might be tempting to believe this case was just an anomaly. But Keith Tharpe is far from the only defendant to be sentenced to death by a deeply racist juror.
A jury deliberated only about two hours before rejecting the death penalty and sentencing Eric Campbell to life with no possibility of parole. In the end, adding the threat of execution to the mix only made this tragic case more painful and protracted. Juries across North Carolina have made it clear they no longer want to kill people. When will prosecutors stop asking them to?
On the heels of Arkansas’ rush to execute four inmates, several U.S. states are restarting executions after an extended hiatus. Ohio has an unbelievable 26 executions planned, and California — home to the nation’s largest death row, almost 750 people — has just moved toward setting execution dates after a decade without them. North Carolina’s 11-year hiatus is still in place, but only constant vigilance will ensure it stays that way.
Almost every time people discuss the death penalty on social media, at least one person chimes in with this opinion: We should execute people because it’s too expensive to keep them in prison for life. But the truth is, the death penalty costs far more than life without parole. Please read this post and help us spread the truth about the wasteful, inefficient death penalty.
Prosecutors might tell you they need the death penalty to punish the “worst of the worst.” But in practice, that’s not how the death penalty is used in North Carolina. Our state spends millions each year to pursue death sentences that are arbitrary and unnecessary, and uses the threat of death as a negotiation tactic to pressure defendants to accept plea bargains — sometimes putting innocent lives on the line.