Return of the Death Penalty

Execution Chamber
Execution chamber recreation, with electric chair and high voltage apparatus

North Carolina has not executed anyone since 2006. Yet county District Attorneys have continued to seek the death penalty for people they consider the “worst of the worst.” Since the prosecutor has almost unfettered discretion in choosing those who face the death penalty, the system is fraught with problems.

Today, more than 140 people sit on death row, more than 100 of whom were sentenced to the death penalty before the state created its indigent defense office. The North Carolina Center for Death Penalty Litigation reports that the implementation of the an indigent defense system and the Office of the Capital Defender has seen a drastic drop in death sentences.

When defendants get good advocacy, the imposition of the death penalty is relatively rare.

In Wake County, for instance, despite multiple heinous, atrocious and cruel killings and several efforts to secure a death penalty, until February 2019, juries had not returned a death sentence in any case.

Despite the valiant efforts of two very skilled lawyers and a strong team of mitigation and other experts, the State won the death penalty in the case of Seaga Gillard. While I am generally opposed to the death penalty, Gillard was a brutal killer who tortured and brutalized his mostly female victims. It is not surprising he got the death penalty.

I recently defendant, along with two other excellent lawyers, another defendant who was convicted of a triple homicide in Wake County. Fortunately, and against very good advocacy by the state’s prosecutors, we were able to beat back the death penalty.

Nonetheless, the death penalty is a very real danger in North Carolina, and for reasons I will explain in another article, the long delay in carrying death penalties is probably coming to an end as the United States Supreme Court trends to the right.

Note: Contrary to the photograph, North Carolina does not perform the death penalty by electric chair.

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Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.