For More Information Contact: Gretchen Engel 919-682-3983
Wake has not sent anyone to death row since 2007. Yet, it has more frequent capital trials than any county in North Carolina. Wake is the only county in the state where a defendant has been tried capitally every year for the past three years. During the same period, since the beginning of 2016, there have been only 10 capital trials – and a single death sentence – in all 100 N.C. counties.
“Our hearts go out to the families of the victims and hope they can find peace,” said Gretchen M. Engel, executive director of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. “The reality is, it just doesn’t make sense to pursue the death penalty in Wake County. Juries have made it crystal clear that they no longer want to impose death sentences, and these costly protracted trials benefit no one.”
Nationally, support for the death penalty fell to its lowest point in 45 years in 2017. Yet, even when juries reject the death penalty, it continues to be expensive. The defense cost for a death penalty case is four and a half times that of a non-capital first-degree murder case, according to Indigent Defense Services, the state agency that oversees capital defense North Carolina. That figure does not include cost incurred by local district attorney offices or the courts during lengthy capital prosecutions, which often last months compared with a week or two for non-capital trials.
Richardson’s case stretched over three months, including three weeks of jury selection, more than two weeks of evidence, and three days for the penalty phase in which the jury decides whether to recommend life or death.
Richardson was one of three people involved in the 2014 murders of Arthur Brown and David McKoy in a robbery gone wrong. His two co-defendants both agreed to plea bargains and neither faced the death penalty. One, who admitted driving the getaway car, will serve less than two years in prison. The other, who the state conceded in Richardson’s trial killed at least one of the victims, was sentenced to life without parole. The Wake District Attorney’s Office also offered Richardson a plea of life without parole, but he declined it. The evidence was unclear as to whether Richardson or a co-defendant killed the second victim.
“Donovan Richardson wasn’t the most culpable murderer in Wake County, or even in this case. He was just the one who refused to accept the plea bargain. That’s why he ended up facing the death penalty,” Engel said. “It’s a system that makes no sense. It’s entirely arbitrary and goes against our ideas about justice and a death penalty reserved only for a carefully selected few.”