Legal experts speak on NC death penalty

CAPE FEAR AREA, NC (WWAY) — A Columbus County man was sentenced to death last month, and the New Hanover County District Attorney’s Office convinced a judge on Thursday, to try a murder case as a capital case.

It’s been 17 years since someone on death row in North Carolina was executed.

WWAY spoke with legal experts about capital punishment in North Carolina, and the civil litigations that have led to the state not performing any executions since 2006.

There are 137 inmates currently on death row in North Carolina.

According to a 2021 study by a professor at Appalachian State University, North Carolina had the largest decline in death sentences of all 50 states, when compared with the annual number of death sentences in the 1990s and 2000s.

New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David discussed what leads a case to be considered by the prosecution for the death penalty.

“There are many times, where the legislature has said that a first degree murder, goes beyond a otherwise –terrible case, to become capital or death penalty eligible. When those aggravating circumstances are present, since the year 2000, prosecutors have been given the discretion to seek the death penalty. Before that, we had to seek it, if any one of more of those aggravating circumstances were present,” said Ben David, New Hanover County District Attorney.

The pause in executions are due to ongoing lawsuits surrounding lethal injection, and the racial justice act.

“You know, the theory is if we can’t do it in a way that is humane, then perhaps we shouldn’t be carrying it out those death sentences, and then on top of that you have a number of death row inmates that have been exonerated through the efforts of places like the Innocence Project or the Center for Death Penalty Litigation,” said Kevin Marcilliat, Roberts Law Group partner.

A spokesperson with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, a nonprofit which represents people on death row in North Carolina, says even if executions were to resume, only after all pending litigation over lethal injection and the RJA are resolved, which is unlikely to happen in the near future, it’s a lengthy process.

“Most of the people on death row, would still have appeals, -appeals in death penalty cases are very complex and last a long time –for very good reason, and so most of them have appeals in individual cases as well. There would be a good number, at least a couple dozen, who would have reached the end of their appeals process in their individual cases, and I suppose execution dates could be set for those people,” said Kristin Collins, Center for Death Penalty Litigation Public Information Director.

Due to the ongoing litigation surrounding death penalty executions, the NC Department of Justice says it cannot comment.

According to a 2022 report by Death Row USA, North Carolina ranks in 5th for states with the most prisoners on death row.

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