Death Penalty Trials Declining In North Carolina
RALEIGH, N.C. — The number of death penalty trials in North Carolina is dropping.
Only one person in the state was sentenced to die in 2013.
Mario Andrette McNeill, 33, was convicted last spring of kidnapping, human trafficking and killing a 5-year-old Cumberland County girl.
His trial was one of five capital cases where a death sentence could have been imposed.
North Carolina has averaged fewer than three death sentences a year over the past decade. That compares with the 1990s, when there were more than two dozen people often were sent to death row in a single year.
North Carolina had no executions this year. A series of lawsuits filed in 2006 challenged the fairness of executions.
The state has 155 inmates on death row, but most have challenges pending.
Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray says some of the cases now designated for the death penalty may not go to trial that way. Murray said prosecutors occasionally switch to seeking life sentences without parole in exchange for guilty pleas before trial.
He said his office deals with dozens of potential death penalty cases each year.
"It's a difficult decision every time," Murray said. "We consider a lot of cases that would appear to meet the basic requirements but that we obviously don't declare."
Lawmakers this year repealed a law that had reopened all death penalty cases for further judicial review and supported new policies that death-penalty critics contend are designed to get executions started again.
The 2009 law had allowed anyone sentenced to die and anyone facing a death sentence to raise questions about a racial bias challenge using statistics.
Rep. Paul Stam, a Republican and Apex attorney pushed for the legislation to resume executions.
"An overwhelming majority of North Carolinians support the death penalty for the types of aggravated, premeditated, cold-blooded murder for which it can be imposed," Stam said.