In Granville County, a hearing is being held to determine whether William Scott Morris will face the death penalty if convicted of the 2008 murder of his wife.
The proceeding is known as a Rule 24 hearing, after the court rule that governs how such a hearing is conducted. For a crime to be death-eligible, it must not only meet the standard for first-degree murder, but must also posses certain characteristics which make it worse than the average killing. These characteristics, which are known as aggravating factors, include things like killing a law enforcement officer in the line of duty or a killing that involves extreme torture. At the Rule 24 hearing, the prosecutor will state which aggravating factors he thinks applies to the case and what evidence he has to support them. If the judge agrees, the case will move forward with the death penalty as a potential sentencing option. If the judge does not find an aggravating factor, the maximum punishment is life without the possibility of parole.