NC Death Penalty – 2010 Year in Review

December 30, 2010

Quick Facts

  • Executions: 0
  • Persons removed from death row for other reasons: 3
  • New death sentences: 4
  • Capital trials not resulting in death: 9

In Detail

> Persons Removed from Death Row

  • Jamey Cheek (New Hanover) – Cheek was re-sentenced to life for a 1996 killing after the court found that the prosecution intentionally withheld evidence favorable to the defense at trial.  This evidence was relevant to whether Cheek was present at the time of the murder.  (Cheek participated in the kidnapping that led up to the killing, which could make him guilty under the felony murder theory.  However, the fact that he was not present during the actual killing would likely have made a difference to the jury for sentencing purposes.)  You can read the court’s order here.
  • Abner Nicholson (Wilson) – Nicholson’s death sentence was converted to life after a court determined that he is mentally retarded.  Nicholson was convicted in 1999 of shooting his wife and the local police chief.  You can read the court’s order granting relief here.
  • Kyle Berry (New Hanover) – Berry was re-sentenced to life after it was determined that the trial court committed error in refusing to allow his lawyers adequate time to investigate and present evidence of pervasive mental illness in Mr. Berry’s family.  Because the jury did not know the true extent of Mr. Berry’s genetically based mental illness, they did not have all of the information they needed to accurately determine an appropriate sentence for his crime.  The court’s order is here.

> Persons Sentenced to Death at Trial

  • Michael Ryan (Gaston) – Fired his attorneys and asked the jury to sentence him to death.  Ryan was convicted based largely on the testimony of a co-defendant who received a lesser sentence in exchange for his cooperation.  The first jury to hear the case deadlocked on the question of guilt; this was Ryan’s second trial.
  • Andrew Ramseur (Iredell) – Black defendant sentenced to death by an all-white jury.  Ramseur killed two people during a botched store robbery.  His ability to plan and control his actions was reduced by the combination of a head injury and the unknowing ingestion of a hallucinogenic drug.
  • Stephen Buckner (McDowell) – Buckner was sentenced to death for a domestic triple murder.  He is deeply remorseful for his actions.
  • Timothy Hartford (Forsyth) – Hartford received one death sentence and one life sentence for a double homicide.  Hartford is severely mentally ill, suffering from both bipolar disorder and PTSD.  He was also addicted to drugs at the time of the crime.  His co-defendant was allowed to plead guilty and avoid the death penalty.

> Persons Given Other Sentences at Trial

  • Abdullah Shareef (Cumberland) – jury voted unanimously for life.  Shareef is a paranoid schizophrenic and was held in a mental institution for six years before becoming competent enough to stand trial.  He was convicted of stealing a city van and running down five people, killing one.
  • Samuel Cooper (Wake) – jury voted unanimously for life.  Cooper was convicted of killing five people in separate incidents spanning two years.  The jury found that Cooper was mentally damaged as the result of a childhood fraught with extreme abuse.
  • Alfred Willard (Mitchell) – pleaded guilty to second degree murder during trial.  Willard killed his live-in girlfriend and tried to conceal her body.
  • Carlos Keels (Robeson) – jury voted unanimously for life.  Keels beat his girlfriend’s daughter to death.
  • Demeatrius Montgomery (Mecklenburg) – court declared case non-capital after investigating officer was found to have destroyed evidence.  Montgomery was accused of killing two Charlotte police officers who were responding to an unrelated call.
  • Travis Ramseur (Iredell) – jury voted unanimously for life.  Ramseur was convicted of killing two men and wounding a third.
  • Dexter McRae (Cumberland) – jury voted unanimously for life.  McRae was convicted of raping and murdering his estranged wife, stabbing her more than 50 times.
  • Edwardo Wong (Catawba) – sentenced to life after jury could not reach unanimous decision.  Wong was convicted of killing a state trooper during a traffic stop.
  • Albert Ramos (Scotland) – pleaded guilty and accepted life sentence during trial.  Ramos killed his mother and stepfather, then fled the state.

Other Significant Events

  • Demario Atwater (FED) – In a North Carolina federal court, Atwater received a life sentence for the highly publicized killing of the UNC student body president.
  • Alejandro Umana (FED) – Also in an NC federal court, Umana was sentenced to death for a gang-related double murder.
  • Timothy Hennis (MIL) – In military court, Hennis was sentenced to death for the same crime for which he was twice tried (once sentenced to death and once acquitted) in civilian court.
  • Racial Justice Act – Following last year’s passage of the RJA, pre-trial defendants and death row inmates have filed claims under the law alleging that their death sentences were sought or obtained on the basis of race.  It remains to be seen how the law will ultimately be interpreted by the courts.
  • State Bureau of Investigation – A blockbuster investigation by Raleigh’s News and Observer revealed widespread and systemic misconduct at the state agency charged with conducting investigations and forensic testing in criminal cases.  A report commissioned by the Attorney General’s Office identified 269 defendants whose cases were affected by faulty evidence.  (The report looked at one test done by one division of the SBI lab; it found an error rate of nearly 25%.)

No Federal Death Penalty in Atwater/Carson Case

April 19, 2010

Demario James Atwater, charged with killing UNC student body president Eve Carson in 2008, has pleaded guilty in federal court.  Had the case gone to trial, he would have faced the death penalty.  A statement from Ms. Carson’s family indicates that they are satisfied with the plea deal.

Atwater still faces charges in state court related to the shooting.

Atwater Jury Selection to Start Feb. 22

February 3, 2010

Jury selection in the federal death penalty trial of Demario James Atwater is scheduled to begin later this month despite several outstanding issues.  Atwater is accused of the 2008 murder of UNC student body president Eve Carson.

The court has yet to rule on several motions, including a motion for change of venue due to the exceptional amount of media attention the case has received.  The court must also decide whether it will order police to release surveillance tapes of the squad car and interrogation room in which Atwater was held – tapes which may show that officers physically abused Atwater after taking him into custody.

Atwater Trial Scheduled November 2009

December 3, 2008

Demario Atwater, who is accused of killing UNC-Chapel Hill student body president Eve Carson, is scheduled to stand trial on federal carjacking charges in a little less than a year.  Atwater has pleaded not guilty.  Carjacking resulting in a death is a capital crime under federal law.  The Department of Justice has not yet approved an U.S. Attorney’s request to seek execution if Atwater is convicted. A judge has given the federal government until March 31 to decide if it will pursue death.

It is unclear if the Obama Administration will continue the Bush Administration’s aggressive policy of seeking the death penalty in federal court where such a sentence is unlikely in state court.

State authorities are seeking death against Atwater on murder and kidnapping charges, but the murder occurred in Orange County, which has not seen an execution in six decades.  Atwater’s co-defendant, Lawrence Lovette, is ineligible for the death penalty in either state or federal court because he was under the age of 18 when the crime occurred.

Carson Family Opposes Death Penalty

October 28, 2008

When Eve Carson was murdered last March, it shook the UNC-Chapel Hill community to the core.  Still, no one was more devastated that the young woman’s parents.  Now both State and Federal law enforcement appear poised to seek the death penalty against one of Eve’s alleged killers, despite her and her family’s opposition to capital punishment.  “They are very, very grateful to law enforcement and to the state and to the federal prosecutors for the way they’ve gone about their work,” said an attorney for the Carson family.  “They would never want to say anything to discourage them from aggressively doing their job. But they do not believe in the death penalty, and neither did Eve.”

[Click here for The Progressive Pulse’s thoughts on how seeking the death penalty in federal court is an attempt to ensure death for the defendant, despite the county’s historical opposition to the death penalty.  No one has been executed for a crime committed in Orange County since 1948.]

Life for Eric Oakes

August 27, 2008

News Update 08.27.08

North Carolina

DW has not found an article on the subject yet, but a Hertford County jury took less than an hour yesterday to sentence Eric Alan Oakes to life without the possibility of parole.  Oakes had faced the death penalty for the 2002 shooting of Tyrelle Overton.

In Orange and Chatham Counties, prosecutors have announced their intention to seek death against Louis Ephraim Wilson.  Wilson is accused of the rape-murder last May of Tracy Lynn Baldwin.  WIlson’s is the fourth capital case District Attorney Jim Woodall has decided to pursue this year in a pair of counties that have not executed anyone since 1948.

The Daily Tarheel, the school paper of UNC-Chapel Hill, is questioning Woodall’s decision to seek death in the case of Demario Atwater, who is accused of killing UNC student body president Eve Carson.

In Raleigh, jury selection has begun in the capital trial of Charles Darryl Dickerson.  Dickerson admits that he killed Brenda Fox in 2006, but asserts that it was a crime of passion.  The State is seeking the death penalty.

Also in Raleigh, 18-year-old Mack Jossie Mojica was informed yesterday that the State might seek the death penalty against him for the stabbing of Christopher Rivera Jiminez.  Mojica’s father convinced him to turn himself in shortly after the argument which led to his friend’s death.


Capital Defense Weekly is encouraging folks who appreciate their unparalleled coverage of all things death penalty to contribute to several worthy organizations.  Among them is North Carolina’s own Fair Trial Initiative, of which DW is a huge fan.

Edward Chapman – Life After Death Row

August 14, 2008

News Update 08.14.08

North Carolina

A truly stunning profile of North Carolina death row exoneree Glen Edward Chapman appears in this month’s Details magazine. Chapman spent nearly 14 years on death row for two murders he did not commit (one of which was not even a murder). He was released with less than $200 to his name, no apology, and nowhere to go. Four months later, Chapman has a job, a house, and an inspiring perspective on the time he served and the road ahead.

The article begins:

The sergeant says, “Pack up.”

Glen Edward Chapman has no idea what’s going on. It’s a sunny afternoon in April, and he has just come in from playing basketball with some of the other inmates at the maximum-security state penitentiary in Raleigh, North Carolina. He’s still drying off from his five-minute shower—if you let the water run too long, they extract 10 bucks from your prison account—and he’s confused. He knows that a judge has ordered a new trial, but nobody’s said anything about when it will be.

Pack up?

“I’ve been packed up for a long time,” Chapman says to the sergeant. As one of his small gestures of mental independence, he’s never gotten around to arranging his personal items in a neat space under the bed—that would suggest he plans on sticking around. Instead, he’s kept everything in a bag for close to 14 years while he’s gradually morphed from a wiry and wide-eyed 26-year-old into a stocky, bespectacled 40-year-old. A guard leads him out of Unit III. Chapman expects the two of them to turn right, toward Safekeeping, where prisoners are housed when they’re awaiting trial, but they turn left, toward Shipping. The guard is as nonchalant as a shopkeeper telling a late-night customer that it’s closing time. “See you later,” he says. “You’re going home.”

(As a side note, DW encourages folks to pick up a paper copy of the mag; there are incredible photographs of Mr. Chapman which do not appear in the online version.)

Reactions to the State’s decision to seek death for Demario Atwater are here and here. From the Charlotte Observer article: “If my loved one were murdered, my gut would tell me to find the person responsible and exact some old-fashioned, Biblical vengeance, “an eye for an eye.” Then, I would hope and pray that some other emotion took over, one that rejects legal as well as illegal violence in a world that has always had more than its share of both.”


Amnesty International and StandDown reflect on the predicament of Raymond Riles, a Texas inmate who has languished on death row for 33 years because even Texas agrees he’s too mentally ill to execute. Still, Texas will not allow Mr. Riles to be moved from death row, the restrictive conditions of which only exacerbate his paranoia and delusions, to a psychiatric prison facility.

From the company we keep department, Iran is taking steps towards ending the practice of stoning condemned prisoners. Relatedly, SLAP links to this article, which notes the decline of the death penalty in Asia, even in China, which executes more people than any nation on Earth.


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