Death Sentences Increase Slightly in North Carolina

I spent a few minutes this morning looking at death penalty data. As most readers know, North Carolina hasn’t had an execution since 2006, as a result of litigation over lethal injection and the Racial Justice Act. But the death penalty remains on the books, the State may seek it, and juries may impose it. How often do they do so?

In recent years, not very often. In the 1990s, the death penalty was imposed 20 times or more in most years. Since 2000, the norm has been just a handful of death sentences annually. (For more detail, see the graph here, produced by the Death Penalty Information Center.) In fact, in 2012, not a single death sentence was imposed in the state.

Since then, however, there has been a slight uptick. In 2013, one death sentence was imposed, on Mario McNeill  in Cumberland Co., for killing 5-year-old Shaniya Davis. A WRAL story about the case is here.

In 2014, so far, juries have sentenced three defendants to death:

  • Bernard Lamp (Iredell Co., for killing Bonnie Lou Irvine, local story here)
  • Juan Rodriguez (Forsyth Co., for killing his wife, Maria Rodriguez, local story here)
  • Jonathan Richardson (Johnston Co., for killing 4-year-old Teghan Skiba, WRAL story here)

I don’t know whether other capital trials are scheduled this year. If readers are aware of any, please post a comment.

There may be a slight uptick nationally as well. After a steep decline from the 1990s through the 2000s, there were just 77 death sentences imposed nationally in 2012. In 2013, there were 80. I couldn’t find year-to-date data for 2014.

Trends in the death penalty are often scrutinized closely and trumpeted loudly by advocates on both sides, so I’ll close by emphasizing that the uptick is quite small and may be the result of random variation. We’ll see what happens in 2015.

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