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.
The N.C. Commission on Actual Innocence is reexamining all convictions that relied on microscopic hair analysis. This type of evidence, once widely used in death penalty prosecutions, is now recognized to be based on junk science. Yet, many people convicted with it still sit in prison.
North Carolina is still miles away from creating a fair and just capital punishment system, despite decades of efforts to reform it, a new report shows. The reality is, no system is—or will ever be—perfect enough to decide life and death.
Prosecutors used evidence of “blood all over the room” to persuade a jury to sentence Patricia Jennings to death. What state experts didn’t tell the jury: Those “blood” spots had actually tested negative for the presence of blood.
Analysts in the State Crime Lab withheld or distorted evidence in at least 230 cases, including 10 in which the defendants were sentenced to death and three that resulted in executions. Five of those defendants remain on death row. This came to light three years ago, but the question remains: What are N.C. prosecutors going to do about it? So far, the answer seems to be very little.