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Declining Death Sentences in NC Parallel Declining Murder Rate

September 21, 2011

RALEIGH, N.C. - North Carolina's murder rate continues to decline statewide, according to the FBI, down more than 19 percent in 2009 and lower again in 2010. In fact, the state's murder rate has been declining since 1991.

At the same time, fewer defendants are receiving death sentences, and no one has been executed in the Tarheel State since 2006.

Death-penalty opponents cite these parallel statistics as proof that eliminating capital punishment would not increase the murder rate, and that juries are now less willing to condemn someone to death versus a life sentence.

Tye Hunter, executive director of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, says this data points to a larger trend.

"A lot of insiders are saying, 'We're seeing the end of the death penalty in North Carolina,' but that it's going to go out as sort of a slow dribble."

Eight defendants were sentenced to death in the last five years in North Carolina, a huge drop from 1995, when 34 inmates were sent to Death Row. Murder rates are also down nationwide.

Hunter cites the large amount of money it costs to put inmates on Death Row, including their appeals process and lengthy stays while they await execution. That process sometimes is years in the making, or never happens.

"Tens of millions of dollars to prosecute and defend these cases. No one is getting executed. Practically no one is even being sentenced to death, and it's not inflating the murder rate."

With this data indicating the death penalty may not be needed as a deterrent to reduce the murder rate, Hunter says, there are other proven programs that could be funded to help reduce crime and build better citizens.

"We could do things that do have a promise for reducing crime in the long run. Smart Start and More at Four are perfect examples of those kinds of programs."

Smart Start and More at Four face budget cuts after this summer's legislative session, although those cuts are now being challenged in court. Advocates for the death penalty say it should still be available for the most gruesome of murders.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC