August 16, 2021
Today, it’s easy for most North Carolinians to forget that our state has a death penalty. It’s been fifteen years since the early morning of August 18, 2006, when the state strapped Samuel Flippen to a gurney and injected poison into his veins. He was the last person to die in Central Prison’s execution chamber.
It was a very different world back then. North Carolina was executing several people every year, as crowds of protesters gathered outside the prison gate to bear witness. Very few people on death row had been exonerated, and the public’s awareness about wrongful convictions was in its infancy. The death penalty had much broader public support than it does now. Polls show that death penalty approval has reached it’s lowest point in decades.
However, one thing has not changed: North Carolina is still fighting to execute people. The death penalty is still very much on the books, and seven capital trials are scheduled in the next three months. North Carolina still has one of the biggest death rows in the nation, with 135 people in danger of execution.
The fifteen-year anniversary of North Carolina’s last execution is no reason for us to become complacent. Instead, it should be a reminder to stay vigilant.
Even a death penalty that appears defunct can come roaring back to life. After a seventeen-year pause, the federal government just executed thirteen people in the space of a few months. Arkansas executed three people in a week in 2017, after a twelve-year pause. Several other states are also working to reopen shuttered execution chambers.
In North Carolina, there is no official moratorium on executions. They are held at bay only by an ongoing lawsuit about the state’s lethal injection protocol, and by litigation under the Racial Justice Act, which allows people on death row to present evidence of racism in their trials and sentences. Should either of these areas of litigation resolve, people could again be given execution dates.
Samuel Flippen is a good reminder of why we must continue to fight. He proclaimed his innocence until the end, and recently the victim’s father in his case raised new concerns that he might have been innocent. Key evidence in the case has been lost.
Flippen was on death row for eleven years before his execution. It’s worth remembering that it took Henry McCollum thirty years on North Carolina’s death row to prove his innocence.
Flippen was executed for the death of his two-year-old stepdaughter, Britnie Hutton. Yet, his death only brought more suffering. Britnie’s father is still fighting to figure out the truth about his daughter’s death, and Flippen’s family has been sentenced to a lifetime of grieving.
Let’s make sure that Samuel Flippen is the last person ever executed in North Carolina. Now is the time to join our grassroots movement to abolish the death penalty once and for all in our state. If you’re not already connected with NCCADP, join our email list, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up to attend one of our regular info sessions.