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.
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.
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.
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.
Delaware is the 20th state to make life without parole its maximum punishment, and the eighth since 2008. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story about just how obsolete the death penalty has become. Another 11 states have not carried out an execution in at least a decade – and North Carolina is one of them.
Even the death penalty’s biggest supporters are beginning to see its waste and inefficacy. Last week, as North Carolina neared a decade without an execution, Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell said he would no longer pursue the ultimate punishment because it is too difficult to carry out and is a drain on court resources.
Now that Wake County juries have rejected the death penalty six times in a row, Wake DA Lorrin Freeman says she might reconsider pursuing death in future cases. The citizens of Wake County should hope she keeps that promise. Death penalty trials cost at least four times as much as non-capital trials, and Wake has wasted millions.
In North Carolina, juries did not impose a single new death sentence this year. It was the second year since 2012 that no one was sent to death row. We also neared a decade without an execution. Across the country, the death penalty reached its lowest point in the modern era with just 49 new death sentences and 28 executions. Even Texas only sent two people to death row.
Twenty five years ago, as an assistant district attorney in Forsyth County, Vince Rabil helped put Blanche Taylor Moore on death row. Today, Rabil says it is time to end the death penalty and calls Moore — a frail 82-year-old still sitting on death row — “a living monument to the failure of a vanishing legal remedy.”