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Executions Decline in NC and Nation

PHOTO: Mario McNeil was the only inmate sentenced to death row in North Carolina in 2013. Photo courtesy NC Dept. of Public Safety.
PHOTO: Mario McNeil was the only inmate sentenced to death row in North Carolina in 2013. Photo courtesy NC Dept. of Public Safety.
December 20, 2013

RALEIGH, N.C. – This holiday, 151 inmates are sitting on North Carolina's death row.

In 2013, only one new person joined them, and no one has been executed in the state in seven years.

That trend matches what's being seen nationally, according to a new report from the Death Penalty Information Center.

Gretchen Engel, executive director of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham, says the state and national figures are proof of public sentiment.

"That's the public talking,” she says. “That's jurors who are very aware of the seriousness of the crime, they've listened to the evidence. But at the end of the day, they say, 'Life without parole is sufficient.'"

Nationwide, there were 39 executions in 2013 – a 10 percent decrease since last year – and carried out in only nine states.

This year, North Carolina lawmakers made an attempt to resume executions and end inquiries about racial bias in the legal system by overturning the Racial Justice Act.

Engel says regardless of a citizen's moral stance on the death penalty, data indicates that maintaining capital punishment is declining as a priority for voters, and that fewer prosecutors are pursuing death sentences in trial.

"Their perception as well has changed over time about, you know, 'Is this worth our time, to put all this energy and resources into a capital case, if what's likely to happen is we're going to get a life sentence anyway?'" he says.

A bipartisan poll of North Carolina voters earlier this year found that nearly 70 percent favored replacing the death penalty with life in prison without parole, if offenders are forced to work and pay restitution.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC