NC Death Penalty Year in Review 2008

December 18, 2008

It has been an exceptional year for life in North Carolina.  No one was executed, and only one new person was added to death row (the lowest number since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1977).  This year, as many capital defendants were acquitted as were sentenced to death.  More death row inmates were exonerated than executed.  North Carolina should be proud.

Nationally, executions began again following the Supreme Court’s decision in Baze v. Rees, but lethal injection remains stalled in North Carolina due to litigation by inmates subject to the procedure as well as the doctors forced to participate in it.

Capital Trial Statistics

Life without parole – 9 (Kenneth Hartley, Charles Dickerson, Eric Oakes, Jakiem Wilson, James Stitt, Robert Windsor, Lisa Greene, Neil Sargeant, James Blue)

Sentences less than life -3 (Pliney Purser, Jonte McLaurin, John Chavis Ross)

Death -1 (James Ray Little)

Military capital trial acquittals – 1 (Alberto Martinez)

Post-Conviction Statistics

Executions – 0

Exonerations – 2 (Levon “Bo” Jones, Glen Edward Chapman)

Death row inmates getting new trials – 2 (John Conaway, William Moore)

Death row inmates getting new sentencing hearings – 1 (William Gray)

Otherwise removed from death row – 2 (Clinton Smith, Carlos Cannady)

Incompetent for execution – 1 (Guy LeGrande)

Deaths from natural causes – 3 (Gary Greene, Leroy McNeill, George Page)

If you would like to be part of making 2009 another Year of Life, please consider making a donation to NC-based groups like the Fair Trial Initiative.

Jonte McLaurin Found Not Guilty

March 4, 2008

News Update 03.04.08

North Carolina

Jonte Devon McLaurin has been acquitted of murder. Instead, McLaurin was convicted of conspiracy to commit armed robbery for his part in a 2006 drug-related robbery gone wrong. If convicted of first-degree murder, McLaurin would have faced the death penalty. McLaurin’s co-defendant, Ryan Omar Simmons, is still awaiting trial.


In Brooklyn, federal judges are asking the Attorney General to stop wasting time and money, and start making better decisions about when to seek the death penalty. Federal prosecutors are batting one for six in the Eastern District of New York. Among the cases presently awaiting a capital trial is one in which the defendant was found not guilty of the same charges in state court. (c/o How Appealing and CDW)

A new study indicates that when the death penalty is used as a bargaining chip, defendants are no more likely to plead guilty than they would if death was not on the table. However, defendants who do plead guilty accept longer sentences when death is on the line. (c/o SLAP)

McLaurin Jury Still Out

February 27, 2008

News Update 02.27.08

North Carolina

The jury is still out in the Fayetteville murder trial of Jonte McLaurin. McLaurin could face the death penalty if found guilty of shooting Jonathan Kencaid Lee during a botched robbery.

Sister Helen Prejean spoke last night at First Presbyterian Church in Durham. She told the audience of her path to social activism and her hope that more states will follow New Jersey’s lead in abolishing the death penalty.


Of the six Guantanamo detainees who will face death before a military tribunal, only one has a lawyer and none has been able to meet with counsel. Defense lawyers and Navy personnel blame one another for an incident this month in which counsel were turned away from a scheduled visit with their client. No one has explained why five detainees have not been provided with the counsel to which they are entitled. The only trial completed at Guantanamo thus far resulted in a sentence of less than one year, from which the defendant has already been released. (c/o How Appealing)

A recent AP story applauded Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for not being as garrulous as his colleagues on the bench. Thomas has not asked a single question during oral arguments in the last two years. Instead, he leans back in his chair and stares at the ceiling. I fail to see how non-participation is a virtue, or why a person would be celebrated for approaching every day as if the world had nothing to teach them. Of course, one would think that some shred of intellectual curiosity would also be a prerequisite for being a journalist.

In reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision in Panetti v. Quarterman, South Dakota has laid out rules for how a judge should decide if an inmate is too mentally ill to be executed. (Scroll down to Section 10.) In sum, “The state has the burden of proving the mental competence of the defendant by a preponderance of the evidence. A defendant is mentally competent to be executed if the defendant is aware of the impending execution and the reason for it.” The bill awaits final approval from the Senate. (c/o StandDown)

Given all the flaws with Virginia‘s system of capital punishment, they have manged to get one thing right thus far: Virginia doesn’t kill people who don’t kill people. The state legislature is looking to change that.

The Fordham Urban Law Journal is presenting a truly impressive symposium entitled, The Lethal Injection Debate: Law and Science. Speakers will include law professors and practitioners (Deborah Denno, Douglas Berman, Elizabeth Semel, Richard Dieter, David Barron), judges (Jeremy Fogel, Fernando Gaitan) doctors (Mark Heath, Mark Dershwitz), and leading journalists (Harvey Weinstein, Adam Liptak). Former executioner Jerry Givens will also speak. The symposium will be presented on March 7th and 8th at Fordham Law School.


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