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NC Murder Rates, Death Penalty Both See Declines

PHOTO:  North Carolina's murder rate is down and following the same trend so is the use of the death penalty in the state.

PHOTO: North Carolina's murder rate is down and following the same trend so is the use of the death penalty in the state.
December 19, 2012

RALEIGH, N.C. - In the wake of the recent Connecticut school shootings, there is some positive news to report about deaths in North Carolina.

The state's murder rate is down once again this year, its sixth without an execution. Also this year, for the first time in 35 years, no jury sentenced an inmate to Death Row.

Tye Hunter, executive director of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, says there are better uses for the more than $10 million spent annually on pursuing death-penalty cases.

"In court time and in prosecutors' time, it's a huge amount of money. And it's really just, at this point, going for nothing."

Hunter says issues in the state's crime lab, along with juries' greater skepticism of evidence presented by prosecutors are among the contributing factors to the absence of death-penalty sentences. He says money spent in litigating these cases could be used for victims' families or for education in the state.

Hunter says it's also important to remember that jurors are dismissed from capital murder cases if they say they are opposed to the death penalty.

"So, you've only got people on the jury who can say, 'I could give the death penalty in the appropriate case.' And yet, in case after case after case, they're finding this isn't an appropriate case."

In the past 15 years, seven people have been exonerated from first-degree murder charges in North Carolina. Nationwide, four states - Texas, Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma - carried out three-quarters of all the executions that took place this year. Also in 2012, Connecticut became the 17th state to abolish the death penalty for crimes in future years.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC