Death Sentences Decline Dramatically in North Carolina

According to District Attorney Tom Keith, death sentences in North Carolina have dramatically declined because jurors are increasingly skeptical of the justice system. Last year, 6 people were sent to North Carolina’s death row, far less than the 26 who were given death sentences in 1999. Keith, who is moving resources away from death penalty cases and to aggressively targeting gun criminals before they kill, believes that a number of high-profile wrongful convictions and DNA exonerations have contributed to the trend toward fewer death sentences. “We’re losing the public-relations war. I’m not going to keep trying them and trying them and trying them because I’m in love with the death penalty. If we’re wasting our time, we won’t try them,” Keith stated. "If this community doesn't want to convict people of capital murder, I'll listen to what the people say." Concerns about innocence and fairness have also spurred death penalty reforms in recent years, including a bill to ban the execution of those with mental retardation and legislation to provide prosecutors with the option to take guilty pleas in capital cases in exchange for life-without-parole sentences. (Associated Press, March 14, 2004) Four people have been exonerated from North Carolina’s death row, including Alan Gell in February 2004. See Innocence. See Sentencing. See DPIC's Year End Report.