Death Penalty

A drawing of Alabama.
Julienne Alexander / Criminal

Convicted criminals can sit on death row for many years after the crime scene is cleaned up and packed away.

In this week's Criminal Podcast, host Phoebe Judge interviews attorney and activist Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama, a state with one of the highest execution rates in the country.

Stevenson started out at Harvard Law School, but was ambivalent about his career choice until an internship sent him to Atlanta to inform an inmate that his execution date wouldn't come within a year.

Conservatives Say No To The Death Penalty

Nov 17, 2015
Jon Hardister
North Carolina General Assembly

Support for the death penalty has declined over the past 20 years. A Pew Research Center poll this year shows a 30 percent drop among Democrats and a 10 percent decline in support among Republicans. However, GOP approval of the death penalty is still strong at more than 75 percent.

Lethal injection room
Wikipedia Creative Commons

Doctors in North Carolina would no longer be required to oversee or participate in executions under a bill heading to Governor Pat McCrory's desk.

House lawmakers gave final approval to the measure Wednesday that allows physician assistants, nurse practitioners or paramedics to oversee executions.

Image of lethal injection table
Ken Piorkowski / Flickr Creative Commons

Legal challenges to the death penalty in North Carolina have effectively stayed any executions since 2006.

This week, lawmakers look to change that with a bill that would allow any medical professional, not just doctors, to administer a lethal injection.

Photo: The lethal injection room at San Quentin State Prison
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation / Public Doman

North Carolina prosecutors have sought the death penalty against about two people per year since 1989 without enough evidence to prove their guilt, according to the Center for Death Penalty Litigation.  The advocacy group opposes the death penalty and helped represent former death row inmate Henry McCollum, who was recently exonerated after 30 years in jail.

NC Legislative building
NC General Assembly

State lawmakers passed nearly 100 bills in two days to meet this session's crossover deadline, the time when non-budgetary measures have to pass at least one chamber of the General Assembly to stay alive.  

Bills about the death penalty, education policy and environmental regulations are among those that still have legs.

Host Frank Stasio talks with WUNC capitol reporter Jorge Valencia and WUNC education policy reporter Reema Khrais about the measures that survived or failed to meet the crossover deadline.

Same-sex married couple
Reema Khrais

The Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) awarded WUNC  with an impressive six Edward R. Murrow Awards on Thursday. The Murrow Awards honor outstanding achievement in electronic journalism. This is the fifth year in a row WUNC has received regional awards.

Six is the most Murrow Awards awarded by any large market radio station this year. WUNC led its market with awards for a large market radio station. The 2015 regional winners include: 

Breaking News

A picture of a syringe.
hitthatswitch / Flickr

Earlier this week, a judge in North Carolina determined the Craig Steven Hicks would be eligible for the death penalty for his role in the shootings of three students in Chapel Hill.  But the state of North Carolina has not put anyone to death since 2006.  The state is one of 34 in the country that allows the death penalty, but the practice here is rarely used.  That was not always the case.

Gun wall featuring rifles and assault riffles.
Michael Saechang -

Craig Stephen Hicks, the man accused of killing three young people in Chapel Hill this February, could face the death penalty. A Durham County Superior Court judge ruled Monday that the prosecution brought forth enough incriminating evidence to make him eligible for a death sentence.

Execution chamber

Stephen Lich Tyler drove to Texas last week to witness the execution of his father’s killer, Ramiro Hernandez Llanas. Before he left, he spoke on The State of Things about his struggles with the decision to attend and his expectations of the execution. He returned to the studio today to talk with host Frank Stasio about the experience and how it shaped his perspective on the death penalty.

Lethal injection room
Wikipedia Creative Commons

On Wednesday night, the State of Texas executed Ramiro Hernandez-Llanas, a man convicted of the 1997 killing of professor Glen Lich.

Hernandez-Llanas was an immigrant hired to work on the Lich property when he lured Lich outside the home and beat him to death. He then returned to the house and attacked Lich's wife.

Lich was not Hernandez-Llanas's first murder victim. Hernandez-Llanas had escaped from Mexican prison where he was serving a 25-year sentence for murder.

Photo: The lethal injection room at San Quentin State Prison
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation / Public Doman

Prosecutors in Wake County are selecting a jury in a first-degree murder trial this week. It is the fifth case in North Carolina this year where a defendant could face capital punishment. But a series of lawsuits have blocked the death penalty for years in this state. And now, a little-known drug could become another obstacle.

Photo: Central Prison in Raleigh
Ted Buckner via Flickr

Members of the North Carolina Court of Appeals appeared to show Tuesday that they wanted to return to a lower court a seven-year-old case over the lethal injection chemicals the state uses in executions.

A three-judge panel heard arguments on whether the state Department of Public Safety should have followed a public rule-making process when it switched its execution procedures from a three-drug chemical mixture to a single-drug injection.

Photo: Death row inmates are housed at Central Prison in Raleigh. No executions have been carried out in North Carolina since 2006.
North Carolina Department of Public Safety

The North Carolina Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday morning on whether the state must follow a public rule-making process when changing its procedures for executing death row prisoners.

Arguments center on the Department of Public Safety switching its protocol for executions from a lethal injection of a three-drug mixture to a single-drug solution. (The change happened last fall.)

Mark Kleinschmidt / Town Of Chapel Hill


A Cumberland County judge held a hearing today for four death row inmates are learning how their cases will proceed under the Racial Justice Act.

Gurnal Scott: The four want their sentences reduced to life without parole. Lawyers say resolving these cases could take years. Lawmakers changed the Racial Justice Act requiring more than just statistical evidence to overturn a death sentence. David Weiss with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation says the only case reviewed so far under the act meets that standard.

House lawmakers have passed a bill that would rewrite the state's Racial Justice Act.

Jessica Jones: House lawmakers passed the controversial measure by a veto-proof 72 to 47 after a long debate yesterday afternoon. The bill would narrow the use of statistics that death row inmates could use to show that racial bias was a factor in their cases. It would also narrow the time frame inmates could use to prove bias. House Majority Leader Paul Stam is a sponsor of the bill.

Lawmakers in the House have voted to nullify a 2009 law that allows death row prisoners to contest their sentences on the basis of racial bias. The law, called the Racial Justice Act, allows a judge to commute a condemned prisoner's sentence to life in prison if he or she determines the case was tainted by race. Republican representative Justin Burr says the law has forced prosecutors to spend too much time reviewing old cases.

A Durham man has been taken off death row after a Superior Court judge commuted his sentence. Isaac Stroud had been sentenced to die for the 1993 murder of his girlfriend. But his attorneys argued mental illness should have disqualified him from a death sentence. The ruling means Stroud will instead spend life behind bars. Marilyn Ozer is an attorney who’s worked on the case since 2001.