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.
Dylann Roof could have been quietly and simply sent to prison for the rest of his life. Instead, his death penalty trial has become an international spectacle where, acting as his own lawyer, he will get to cross examine survivors and victims’ families. Even in the worst crimes, the death penalty serves no one.
Meet Paul Brown, a man living while waiting to die. He has been on North Carolina’s death row since 2000, awaiting an execution that may never come. He makes no excuses for his crime, and he doesn’t lament his punishment. He began writing a few years ago simply to answer the question: How do I make something of the life I have left?
Guilt rains down on my head like brimstone when I think of the challenges she’ll face, knowing that I’m supposed to be there to help her navigate the pitfalls she won’t be able to see or anticipate. I try to be creative and say grandfatherly things, and hope they’ll somehow make a difference in her life. I know I must speak with assurance even though my own circumstances are tenuous.
“Thank God this wasn’t a capital case,” Barry Scheck said as his client, Darryl Howard, walked free after 21 years wrongfully imprisoned for a double murder he did not commit. Howard’s exoneration in a Durham courtroom this week was yet another reminder of why we cannot trust our justice system to decide life and death.
Death row inmate Paul Brown’s lovely tale of geese nesting in the prison yard — and how the hopefulness of new life inspires compassion in condemned men. “Having no contact with our families for such a long time — for some of us, it’s been more than 20 years since we’ve had any meaningful human contact — the instinct to care still comes naturally… Some of us are barely hospitable with each other, yet we’re all attentive and accommodating to the birds.”
Today is a somber anniversary in North Carolina. The last execution carried out in our state was on this day 10 years ago. We didn’t know it then, but that day marked a dividing line in North Carolina’s history. Before, North Carolina had one of the most active death chambers in the nation. After, we became the only state in the South to put executions on hold.