Commentary

Watch today’s Crucial Conversation luncheon on the death penalty on Facebook Live

If you weren’t able to register for today’s Crucial Conversation luncheon — “North Carolina’s death penalty: On life support?” — don’t despair. The event will be “broadcast” live and recorded for later viewing on the Policy Watch Facebook page.

Here are some additional details about the event:

Here’s something you might not know: North Carolina hasn’t executed a prisoner since 2006, but the state – home to a boom in capital murder trials during the 1990s – houses the country’s sixth largest “death row” population.

That’s one of a series of sobering details in Unequal Justice: How Obsolete Laws and Unfair Trials Created North Carolina’s Outsized Death Row,” a report published in 2018 by the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, the state’s leading advocacy organization on capital punishment.

Here’s another one: A new poll from the Center for Death Penalty Litigation indicates that a majority of North Carolinians today do not support the death penalty, preferring life sentences without the possibility of parole. That’s a stunning shift for the state, where, for decades, most residents have strongly backed capital punishment.

Perceptions change, and North Carolinians’ “tough-on-crime” approach to the 90s gave way to a more nuanced view in the general public and in the courts today. More people understand the staggering racial imbalances in states’ application of the death penalty. And DNA evidence has proven integral in overturning decades-old verdicts, particularly those rendered by notoriously unreliable eyewitness testimony and forced confessions.

Yet some of North Carolina’s most powerful lawmakers have urged the state to resume executions, and if the state does so, it will begin with a list of prisoners tried and convicted under hopelessly outdated laws.

It’s time to revisit the death penalty in North Carolina, and we’ll do so at a special “Crucial Conversation” with three guests:

Andre Smith, whose son was murdered in Raleigh in 2007. He teaches meditation and anger management to prisoners and advocates for ending the death penalty.

Elizabeth Hambourger, a capital defense attorney whose client, Nathan Holden, was tried capitally in Wake County in 2017.

Kristin Collins, CDPL Associate Director of Public Information and author of the new report.

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