Many in our state are celebrating 10 years of no executions and putting out a call for no more killings in our name. Patrick O’Neil a leading abolitionist in our state has helped organize a service and vigil to commemorate 10 years of an execution-free North Carolina. The service will begin at 7 PM on August 18th at Pullen Memorial Church in Raleigh and Patrick offers the following for our thoughts and meditation:
“The last execution in North Carolina was of Samuel Flippen on August 18, 2006. Since then, executions have been on hold due to litigation regarding the legality of the state’s lethal injection protocol, as well as continuing litigation of the N.C. Racial Justice Act.
During those ten years:
Four people wrongly sentenced to death in North Carolina were exonerated, bringing the total to nine innocent people who have been sentenced to die. Nationally, the number of death row exonerations topped 150.
The 2014 exonerations of Henry McCollum and his brother, Leon Brown, revealed that it is impossible to be sure which defendants are guilty. McCollum and Brown, both intellectually disabled, were sentenced to death and spent 31 years in prison before DNA testing finally proved them innocent. In 2015, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Breyer cited their case as evidence that the death penalty is unreliable and likely unconstitutional.
North Carolina’s murder rate declined, from nearly 7 murders per 100,000 people in 2005 to 5.5 in 2014, disproving the myth that executions deter crime.
New death sentences became rare in North Carolina. In 2015 and 2012, N.C. juries did not impose a single new death sentence. Since 2010, there have been no more than three new death sentences per year, in contrast with the 1990s when often more than 30 death sentences were imposed in a single year.
The State Bureau of Investigation admitted to falsifying evidence in dozens of trials in order to secure convictions, including cases where defendants were sentenced to death. A scathing audit showed that, in more than 200 cases, state investigators misled juries about inconclusive blood evidence, leading them to believe it pointed to guilt.
Clear evidence of racial bias in capital trials emerged, thanks to the N.C. Racial Justice Act. A rigorous academic study found, and a judge affirmed, that African Americans are systematically denied the right to serve on capital juries in North Carolina. Defendants also found notes and documents proving that prosecutors used race in evaluating which jurors to strike during their trials.
Most states stopped executing inmates due to drug shortages and botched executions. Georgia, Missouri, and Texas are the only three states that have conducted an execution this year. North Carolina is now one of 11 states that have the death penalty on the books, but have not held an execution in at least a decade. If North Carolina were to resume executions, it would face the same problems other states have in finding drugs and carrying out executions humanely, plus new state laws have removed transparency and safeguards from the process.
Nationally and in North Carolina, death penalty support reached its lowest point in decades. Eight states have formally abandoned the death penalty since 2008, and polls show public support for the death penalty is at a 40-year low. In North Carolina, a 2013 poll showed that 68 percent of voters favored replacing the death penalty with life in prison without parole if offenders were required to work and pay restitution to their victims’ families.
New voices came forward to oppose the death penalty in North Carolina, including prosecutors and political conservatives. Recently, former Republican N.C. Supreme Court Justice I. Beverly Lake wrote an op-ed saying he now believes the death penalty is unconstitutional. Some prosecutors and law enforcement officials have also begun to question the need for the death penalty. North Carolina has an active chapter of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.”
In light of all of these events, it is important to commemorate this achievement by calling on people of conscience to proclaim: “No more executions ever again in our state.” Please join us at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church for a service and memorial walk to Central Prison to light candles as we celebrate this achievement. This will be our first walk to Central Prison in a spirit of hope rather than despair.