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.
Not long ago, Arkansas was much like North Carolina. It hadn’t executed a death row inmate in more than a decade, and the death penalty appeared to be quietly fading away. How quickly things change. Today, Arkansas is fresh off four executions carried out in the space of eight days. The message to North Carolina is we cannot afford to become complacent. It’s up to us to make sure North Carolina doesn’t become the next Arkansas.
Like N.C., Arkansas hasn’t executed a prisoner in more than a decade. Now, with its execution drugs about to expire, Arkansas has crafted a crazy plan to turn its death chamber into a factory, executing eight men during a 10-day period in April and setting a national record. It is yet another example of the horror show that the American death penalty has become, and a reminder why N.C. is better off staying out of the business of executions.
The juror who voted to sentence Kenneth Rouse to die believed that African-Americans were naturally more prone to commit crimes because “blacks do not care about living as much as whites do.” By his own admission, “bigotry” was a key factor in his decision on Rouse’s case. This kind of open racism has been allowed in jury rooms for too long. Now the U.S. Supreme Court says states must address it.
Public safety officials used to be among the death penalty’s staunchest supporters. Now, some are beginning to speak up about the punishment’s unfairness, inefficiency, and failure to improve public safety. In a new video from the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, a retired police chief and a former N.C. prison warden who participated in 14 executions both say they believe the death penalty does nothing to keep our society safe. The video comes just as a Wake County jury rejected the death penalty for the seventh time in a row.
Duane Buck was sentenced to death after an expert deemed him inherently dangerous because of his race. The racism in his trial was blatant, yet it still took 20 years for him to win a new sentencing hearing. Just like Texas, North Carolina fights every day to execute people whose trials were stained by racial bias.
If those who want executions to resume in North Carolina get their way, we will find ourselves in the same position as Arizona — where experimental drugs led to a 2-hour botched execution, federal agents seized the state’s illegally purchased execution drugs, and now inmates are being asked to bring their own drugs to their executions. The death penalty has become a grim circus.
A man who spent nearly 20 years on death row was recently re-sentenced to life in prison without parole. It was a sane resolution to a senseless and much-regretted crime committed by a deeply troubled teenager. Phillip Davis was re-sentenced with the full of support Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams. If only more North Carolina district attorneys would consider resolving decades-old cases with evidence of prosecutorial misconduct.
Ken retired this month from the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, where he earned his reputation as one of North Carolina’s most respected and visionary death penalty attorneys. Through 35 years of fighting the N.C. death penalty, Ken never lost the idealism or the passion that has driven him since his earliest days. He never stopped being surprised — and outraged — at injustice. And he never stopped plotting to outwit the machinery of death.
In 2016, N.C. passed the decade mark with no executions and sentenced just one new person to death. Yet, our state continues to spend millions each year to maintain the sixth largest death row in the nation — 150 aging people, the vast majority of whom have been there for more than a decade, with no executions on the horizon.