In the past five years, no more than three people have been sent to death row in a single year. And in 2012, we had another full year with no death sentences.
This year brought still more signs that the death penalty is dying in North Carolina. 2015 saw only four capital trials. Meanwhile, executions remained on hold for the ninth straight year, and the murder rate remains lower than in years where executions were monthly occurrences.
We have come a long way since the 1990s, when more than two dozen people were sentenced to death each year and the state was executing defendants at a rapid clip. We got here with hard work and persistence.
In 2015, CDPL’s work remained integral to slowing the death penalty’s pace in North Carolina:
- We continued to litigate issues with the state’s lethal injection protocol, which is the main reason executions remain on hold in North Carolina. This year, we defeated the state’s efforts to expedite that litigation and restart executions.
- We also continued to provide substantial assistance to capital defense attorneys, helping to ensure fair outcomes for defendants on trial for their lives.
- We drew enormous public attention to the threat the death penalty poses to innocent defendants, both with our June report on the wrongfully prosecuted and by telling the story of Henry McCollum, a CDPL client who received a pardon of innocence from the governor this year.
- We continued to put a spotlight on race discrimination in jury selection. Evidence from the Racial Justice Act hearings was cited in the national press and in a brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court as it considered a case with racially-charged prosecution notes that mirrored those of RJA defendant Quintel Augustine. We also published a widely circulated op-ed on the exclusion of African Americans from capital juries.
- Also this year, longtime CDPL client Kenny Neal was resentenced to life imprisonment after 19 years on death row. The court found that Neal could not be executed because of his intellectual disability.
We head for 2016 with optimism that the death penalty will soon be a relic of North Carolina’s past.