From Gretchen M. Engel, Executive Director of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation:
Today’s verdict in Wake County does not reflect the views of the majority of citizens in North Carolina. All it shows is that, if you try ten death penalty cases in a row and exclude from the jury all the people who oppose the death penalty, you can find a jury that will sentence a person to death despite the death penalty’s documented unfairness.
By law, juries in capital trials include only people who support the death penalty, which polls tell us are now a minority in North Carolina. However, even with juries stacked in favor of the death penalty, only two of the past seventeen capital trials in North Carolina have ended with death sentences. In Wake County the ratio is even lower. This is the only death verdict of the past ten capital trials.
Seaga Gillard committed a serious crime for which he should be punished. But was he the worst of the worst? Wake County jurors have rejected the death penalty in cases of rape and murder, including rape and murder of a child. Wake County jurors have refused to impose the death penalty in other double homicide cases and even in a case in which the defendant was convicted of murdering five people. All today’s verdict shows is what we already knew: That the death penalty is imposed arbitrarily, and disproportionately on black men.
Since taking over as Wake district attorney, Lorrin Freeman has pursued the death penalty more than any other prosecutor in North Carolina, costing taxpayers millions of dollars. That is a poor investment, even in this case. Executions have been on hold since 2006 and most death row prisoners in North Carolina have been awaiting execution for more than 20 years. Gillard will now join them, awaiting an execution that is unlikely to ever be carried out.