How many more innocent people’s lives must be destroyed before we end the death penalty?
Across the country, innocent people receive the death penalty with shocking frequency. Nearly 200 people have now been exonerated from America’s death rows. In North Carolina, twelve people have so far been exonerated after receiving death sentences, but not before serving a combined 157 years in prison. Henry McCollum was sentenced to death at 19 for a crime he had nothing to do with, and spent 30 years on death row before finally being freed.
Exonerations are often joyful events, but we should not mistake them for a sign that the system works. Only a deeply unjust system would routinely send innocent people — almost all of them people of color — to their deaths. When these horrible miscarriages of justice are finally exposed, state leaders do nothing to take stock of a capital punishment system that nearly killed another innocent person. Many death row exonerees do not even receive compensation for the time they served in prison.
Meanwhile, every exoneration means that the person who caused harm was not held accountable. This realization often causes tremendous pain to surviving family members, who must accept that the person who killed their loved one may never face consequences.
There are almost certainly more innocent people on North Carolina’s death row today. This is reason enough to end the death penalty.
Right now in North Carolina:
- Since the 1970s, twelve people have been exonerated after receiving death sentences in North Carolina.
- Eleven of North Carolina’s twelve exonerees are people of color.
- National studies suggest that one in every 25 people sentenced to death is innocent.