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NC Death Row Inmate Resentenced to Life in Prison

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There are 148 people currently on North Carolina's death row. (Sarah Hinna/Flickr)
There are 148 people currently on North Carolina's death row. (Sarah Hinna/Flickr)
February 13, 2017

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- After spending more than 20 years on death row, Phillip Davis has now been re-sentenced to life in prison instead.

The decision was handed down Friday in a Buncombe County courtroom after attorneys for the Center for Death Penalty Litigation successfully argued that under today's standards, Davis probably would not have been sentenced to death.

His attorney, Shelagh Kenney, explained.

"The landscape of pursuing a death sentence is very different now than it was then,” Kenney said. "At the time that Mr. Davis was arrested, a DA couldn't really exercise discretion to take a possible death sentence off the table."

At age 18, Davis was convicted of murdering his aunt and cousin. But courts now recognize that the brains of juveniles are not sufficiently formed to understand the consequences of their actions. In his case, Davis had a low IQ, unstable family life and serious mental health problems.

Additionally, Davis, an African-American, was convicted by an all-white jury, after prosecutors dismissed the only qualified black juror.

Buncombe County district attorney Todd Williams is being applauded for his action in this case.

"Mr. Davis, age 18 and a quarter, came to court and pled guilty without the benefit of any negotiation with the state and faced an all-white jury - where there was some questions as to that selection of that jury - and was sentenced to death on one of two counts,” Williams said.

Davis's attorney has also spoken highly of Williams.

"We have been really impressed by the ability of the elected DA in Buncombe County to have an open door, to allow us to bring important aspects of Mr. Davis's case to him,” Kenney said.

She also pointed to the public resources saved by no longer keeping Davis on death row, and added that the victims' families supported the decision. Since his crime, Davis has consistently expressed deep regret over his actions.

There are 148 people currently on death row in North Carolina. No one has been executed in the state since 2006.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC