A return to executions?

North Carolina hasn’t had an execution since 2006, and state Sen. Thom Goolsby wants to change that.

Goolsby, a Wilmington Republican, filed a bill today that seeks to repeal what’s left of the Racial Justice Act and restart executions in North Carolina.

state Sen. Thom Goolsby

state Sen. Thom Goolsby

North Carolina’s death row has 152 people on it, and the numbers of people sentenced to death has lessened in recent years. No one was sentenced to death by a North Carolina jury last year, though three people were in 2011. The longest resident of death row, Wayne Laws, has been awaiting execution since 1985.

Goolsby said at a press conference held Wednesday afternoon that the defacto moratorium the state had after a series of legal appeals needs to end.

“It is the law of our land,” Goolsby said.

Goolsby’s bill, Senate Bill 306, may not be able to immediately restart the execution process The Racial Justice Act, the first of its kind when it passed in 2009, initially intended to allow death row inmates to seek relief if racial bias existed in their case, by using statistics and anecdotal evidence. But that was weakened significantly in 2012, when the state legislature, at the urging of elected district attorney, curtailed the law by saying that the race of the victim could not be a factor and that racial statistics need to be restricted to the county or judicial district where the crime happened.

Nearly all of the 152 death row inmates filed appeals under the Racial Justice Act, and those appeals would still be able to proceed as part of those legal procedures, Goolsby said.

The North Carolina courts are also still reviewing the lethal-injection method of execution in the state, said Gerda Stein, a spokeswoman for the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, a Durham-based law group that represents death row inmates in appeals. The state’s appeals courts would need to make their rulings before executions can resume, she said.

Public sentiment is also not behind the death penalty, Stein said.

A poll conducted in early February by  Public Policy Polling found that 68 percent of North Carolinians favored repealing the death penalty as long as the offender is given lifetime sentence in prison without the chance of parole and had to work and pay restitution to victim’s families.

(Click here to see the PPP poll results.)


  1. Sean D Sorrentino

    March 13, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    Good. Let’s start clearing out the backlog. If we work at it we could get it down to a reasonable number within a year.

  2. Matthew Robinson

    March 13, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    Hi Senator Goolsby

    Greetings from Matthew Robinson, Professor of Government & Justice Studies at Appalachian State University. I read today about your bill to resume executions in the state of North Carolina (http://www.wral.com/bill-seeks-to-put-death-penalty-back-on-track/12217751/).

    While I understand the logic of restarting a punishment that is legally permissible in the state (which we have not carried out since 2006), I urge you to reconsider based on all the empirical evidence that has been gathered about the death penalty in our great state.

    I summarized all of it–every study–and outlined the five key facts of capital punishment in North Carolina. You can read it here:


    In a nutshell, the penalty is rare, ineffective, excessively costly, racially biased, and a serious threat to the innocent. Given this, resuming executions makes no sense at all, especially since murder is down in the state.

    These findings come from careful and deliberate research, conducted largely by state employees and paid for mostly by taxpayers in the state. To ignore it is illogical and wasteful.

    As a professional criminologist who has written several books on what produces crimes like murder and how to prevent them, I am confident that the death penalty is a distraction from policies that actually work. And I am 100% willing to work with you to pursue more effective policies.

    Let’s work together on this. I urge you to take a step back from capital punishment and let’s instead institute policies proven to be effective to reduce murder, thereby reducing even the need for such severe punishment and more importantly the undue suffering of innocent victims’ familes.

    Contact me at your convenience and I will be happy to talk with you about this.


    Matthew Robinson

  3. […] the North Carolina Senate filed SB 306, a bill to repeal what’s left of the Racial Justice Act and restart executions in the state. […]

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