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Why Have There Been No Executions In North Carolina?

A picture of a syringe.

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.

North Carolina was once one of the major users of the death penalty says Frank Baumgartner, professor of political science at UNC-Chapel Hill, "Since the modern period termed as 1976, our state has executed 43 people.  That made us rank about 8th in the nation."

North Carolina was known to have some of the harshest death penalty policies in the country says Baumgartner. 

"In 1972 when the Supreme Court invalidated the existing death penalty laws because they were capricious and arbitrary."  The response says Baumgartner,  was to make the death penalty mandatory "Until 2001 (North Carolina) was the only state in the nation that required that the District Attorney's seek the death penalty if there was an aggravating circumstance.  So that was truly harsh.  We were the only state in the country to allow that."

That all changed in the mid 2000's when the Doctor's Association ruled that they would not allow any doctors to participate in executions, and because a doctor's presence was a requirement of state protocol,    that put a moratorium on executions, says Baumgartner, "We don't have a valid lethal injection protocol in this state so we don't know how long it might be before they restart any executions."

There are currently 149 men sitting on death row waiting for their execution. 

Phoebe Judge is an award-winning journalist whose work has been featured on a numerous national radio programs. She regularly conducts interviews and anchors WUNC's broadcast of Here & Now. Previously, Phoebe served as producer, reporter and guest host for the nationally distributed public radio program The Story. Earlier in her career, Phoebe reported from the gulf coast of Mississippi. She covered the BP oil spill and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for Mississippi Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio. Phoebe's work has won multiple Edward R. Murrow and Associated Press awards. Phoebe was born and raised in Chicago and is graduate of Bennington College and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.
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