Some seats still remain for tomorrow’s Crucial Conversation luncheon:

Is the death penalty broken beyond repair in North Carolina?

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Featuring Gretchen Engel, Ken Rose and Kristin Collins of the North Carolina Center for Death Penalty Litigation

The recent pardons belatedly granted by Governor Pat McCrory to Henry McCollum (who sat unjustly on North Carolina’s death row for 30 years) and his half-brother Leon Brown (who had been sentenced to life in prison) have served to draw attention once more to North Carolina’s flawed criminal justice system and, in particular, the question of whether the death penalty can ever be fairly applied.

Today, in fact, two-thirds of North Carolina’s 149 death row inmates were sentenced more than 15 years ago, before key reforms vastly reduced the number of death sentences imposed in North Carolina. Many, like McCollum and Brown, were tried before DNA testing was widely used, and before laws requiring confessions to be videotaped and allowing defendants access to all of the state’s evidence in their cases.

Now, a soon-to-be-released report from experts at North Carolina’s nationally recognized Center for Death Penalty Litigation (CDPL) promises to raise even more questions about wrongful capital prosecutions, their financial and human costs and the very legitimacy of our criminal justice system.

Please join us for this very special NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation with the report authors – CDPL Executive Director Gretchen Engel, Senior Staff Attorney Ken Rose and Associate Director of Public Information Kristin Collins.

When: Thursday, June 25, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Click here for parking info.

Space is limited – preregistration required.

Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch.

Click here to register

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or


From the good people at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation

“Death penalty advocates say executions are needed to puni:sh a small handful of the “worst of the worst” criminals. However, a new report from the Center for Death Penalty Litigation finds that the death penalty in North Carolina is being used broadly and indiscriminately, with little regard for the strength of the evidence against defendants — and putting innocent people at risk of being sentenced to die.

On Trial for Their Lives: The Hidden Costs of Wrongful Capital Prosecutions in North Carolina is the first study in the United States of cases in which people were charged or prosecuted capitally but never convicted. The study finds that 56 people since 1989 — about two a year — have been capitally prosecuted in North Carolina despite evidence too weak to prove their guilt. The wrongful prosecutions happened in 31 counties in every region of the state.

The report comes on the heels of the exoneration of Henry McCollum, North Carolina’s longest serving death row inmate. It exposes another facet of a capital punishment system that targets innocent people with the death penalty. Considering that only 40 people have been executed in North Carolina in the time period the report covers, more people have faced the death penalty and not been convicted of a crime than have been executed in North Carolina.”

Commentary, Justice for McCollum and Brown

The good people at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation issued the following important statement in the wake of Gov. McCrory’s absurdly-delayed pardon announcement today for Henry McCollum and Leon Brown:

With pardon finally granted, McCrory must address broken death penalty system
McCollum and Brown case exposes flaws that could lead to executing an innocent person

Raleigh, NC –Gov. Pat McCrory granted a pardon of innocence today to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, after a nearly 10-month reinvestigation that confirmed the findings of the Innocence Inquiry Commission, the prosecutor, and the judge in their case. The governor’s action will clear their names and allow them to receive up to $750,000 in state compensation for their wrongful imprisonment.

“We are happy that Henry and Leon will finally get the compensation they deserve, and that their innocence has been officially recognized,” said Ken Rose, a senior attorney with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, who represented McCollum for 20 years. “But we cannot stop there. We must reexamine a system that let an innocent man sit on death row for 30 years. How many more innocent people are still awaiting execution? The governor can and should call an official halt to executions in North Carolina until we know the answer to that question.” Read More

Justice for McCollum and Brown, News

PardonAfter being wrongfully convicted for the death of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie, spending more than 30 years in jail, and then waiting 266 days more for a pardon, Henry McCollum and Leon Brown are finally and fully free men.

At a press conference held an hour ago (to which Policy Watch was denied access), Gov. Pat McCrory announced that he was granting pardons of innocence to both men.

Here’s what the governor had to say in his press release:

“Today, I announce that I am granting pardons of innocence to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown.


“As with all pardons of innocence, both pardon applications for Mr. McCollum and Mr. Brown were thoroughly reviewed by the Office of Executive Clemency, my legal team, and the Clemency Committee.


“Many individuals were contacted and interviewed, and I met personally with Mr. McCollum and Mr. Brown.  


“It is difficult for anyone to know for certain what happened the night of Sabrina Buie’s murder. My deepest sympathies go out to the family of Sabrina Buie for what they have endured.


“I know there are differing opinions about this case and who is responsible. This has been a comprehensive and thoughtful process during the past nine months. Based on the available evidence I’ve reviewed, I am granting pardons of innocence to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown. It’s the right thing to do.”

The men were exonerated by Superior Court Judge Douglas B. Sasser and ordered released in September 2014, years after a cigarette butt found at the crime scene implicated someone else as the murderer.

They left prison with $45 from the state in their pockets, led to believe that by law they were entitled to, and would soon get, additional compensation for the loss of 31 years of freedom.

Both filed requests for pardons — needed before they could get that compensation — on September 11, 2014, and have been waiting for the governor to act ever since.

“We’re very happy that the governor has done the right thing and granted pardons of innocence,” said Ken Rose, an attorney with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation who represented the men through their exoneration.

“He’s now joined the consensus of nearly everyone who’s looked at this case that Mr. Mccollum and Mr. Brown are innocent. This is one step for them to restart their lives, but it’s still going to be a long journey and a long fight for them to regroup and begin their lives again.

Rose also called on the governor to “to take the next step and halt all executions officially.”

“It’s just fortuitous that McCollum, having been on death row, was exonerated because of a cigarette butt that the real killer happened to leave at the scene of the crime. Had that not happened, he would still be on death row; he would still be under threat of execution.  The only way to stop that from happening to innocent people is to stop executions.”

Vernetta Alston, an attorney from the Center who worked with Rose to get the men released, echoed those sentiments.

“I’m thrilled for Henry and Leon, that this has finally come through,” she said. “They’ve been waiting nine, almost ten long months.  We’re happy that the governor has confirmed what we all know, that  Henry and Leon are innocent. This solidifies what I think is now the governor’s obligation, to issue a formal moratorium on executions in the state.”




090309-1854-memotodeath1.jpgThe global and national trend is unmistakable and, let’s hope, irresistible: the death penalty is on the way out and increasingly confined to authoritarian/theocratic states and lawless regions controlled by criminal bands.

In case you missed it, yesterday’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer rightfully lauds Nebraska’s courageous repeal vote from last week and urges North Carolina to get on board with this encouraging and fast-growing bandwagon. Here’s the excellent conclusion to the N&O essay:

“The death penalty also smacks of revenge punishment, something to give satisfaction to the family and friends of a murder victim. That’s not what the court system is about. It is about justice, not revenge.

And to argue, as many politicians have over many decades, that the death penalty is important because it is a deterrent to crime is simply disingenuous. It’s political convenience, because there’s little evidence to show a connection between the establishment of the death penalty and a decrease in crime. States without the death penalty have lower murder rates than those with it.

Sadly, North Carolina’s Republicans continue to lead the state away from enlightened thought on the issue. Legislators now are moving to restart stalled executions in the state by eliminating the requirement that a doctor be present.

North Carolina’s People of Faith Against the Death Penalty offered a good summation here: “It is no longer conservative to support the death penalty – it’s just outdated. The legislators in Nebraska voted their consciences. They voted their values. They value life and creation and justice for all and recognize that the death penalty is, in fact, contrary to these values.”

It has been more than 40 years since a state acted to abolish the death penalty. Let us hope Nebraska’s action will be followed by other states sooner than that.”

Also, be sure to check out this op-ed from Fridays’ Asheville Citizen-Times in which a contributor explains his own evolving views on the death penalty.