Jury in Wake County, North Carolina Returns 8th Consecutive Life Verdict in a Capital Trial

A Wake County, North Carolina jury voted to spare Nathan Holden's life on March 3, marking the eighth consecutive capital sentencing trial in the county in which juries had opted to sentence a defendant to life without parole instead of the death penalty. No jury in Wake County has imposed a death sentence since 2007. Prosecutors had sought the death penalty against Holden for murdering his ex-wife's parents and attempting to kill her. The jury convicted Holden of two counts of first-degree murder but, after being presented evidence of 39 mitigating circumstances—including that he suffered from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder as a result of chronic childhood abuse—jurors chose to sentence him to life. Although the ten Wake County prisoners on North Carolina's death row placed the county among the 2% of counties that accounted for 56% of all prisoners on U.S. death rows as of 2013, Wake District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said after jurors returned the sixth consecutive life sentence in February 2016 that it might be time to rethink whether to pursue the death penalty in future cases. Wake County's experience has been typical of North Carolina, and the nation as a whole. The state has averaged fewer than two death sentences per year since 2011, with no new death sentences in 2012 and 2015. In 2016, only one of the five capital trials in the state resulted in a death sentence. By contrast, the state sent between 20 to 30 people per year to death row in the 1990s. The United States has seen a similar drop in death sentences, imposing a total of only 30 new death sentences last year, down from a peak of 315 in 1996 (see graph, click to enlarge). North Carolina's last execution was in 2006.

(T. McDonald, "Nathan Holden sentenced to life in prison for murdering his in-laws," The News & Observer, March 3, 2017; R. Richardson, "Jury rejects death penalty in Nathan Holden trial," WNCN.com, March 3, 2017; T. McDonald, "Duke psychologist: Nathan Holden sufferers [sic] from PTSD," The News & Observer, March 1, 2017). See Sentencing. [UPDATE: Media reports initially indicated that this was the 7th consecutive life verdict in Wake County. It is at least the 8th. The other Wake County capital trials resulting in life sentences between 2008 and 2017 were: Jakiem Wilson, 2008; Charles Dickerson, 2008; Sam Cooper, 2010; Joshua Stepp, 2011; Jason Williford, 2012; Armond Devega, 2014; Travion Smith, 2016.]