Point of View

No deterrent, no defense for NC death penalty

September 10, 2013 

As the former chairman of the Durham County Republican Party and a staunch conservative, I have heard for years that North Carolina needs the death penalty to prevent the murder of innocent people. Some of my colleagues have gone so far as to say that those who seek to prevent or delay executions have blood on their hands.

However, when the 2012 crime statistics were released this month, we saw further proof that some of my fellow Republicans just don’t have all the facts about the death penalty’s deterrent effect on crime. The report from the N.C. Department of Justice showed that the homicide rate had dropped 3.8 percent since 2011.

This decline happened in a year when no one was executed and when, for the first time in the modern era of the death penalty, not a single murderer was sentenced to death in North Carolina. Executions have been stalled since 2006 and, far from the bloody rampage that some predicted, the murder rate has gone steadily down.

Back in 2005, when prisoners were being executed at a steady clip, the homicide rate was 6.8 per 100,000 people. Last year, it was 5.1. That’s a 25 percent decline.

I am all in favor of taking a tough approach to crime. I believe people who commit murder should die in prison. I also believe we should use crime-fighting tools that are efficient and have proven results. The death penalty does not meet either of those standards.

Law enforcement officials say they have found approaches that make our citizens safer: community policing, prevention programs aimed at teens, targeted patrols. These are the programs that save lives and make people feel safer in their neighborhoods.

Yet, in tough economic times, law enforcement budgets are on the chopping block while our state continues to spend millions every year on the death penalty, the very epitome of a wasteful government program.

Murderers often remain on death row for decades, after having cost the taxpayers millions just to put them there. Then the wait for the infinite and expensive appeals causes us taxpayers – but more importantly the victims’ families – continued pain.

In the past decade, the number of death row inmates resentenced because of irregularities in their trials or who died of natural causes far exceeds the number executed. Since 2004, 13 death row inmates have been executed. Twelve have died naturally, and judges have removed 47 from death row because of problems with their convictions.

With these kinds of results, death by execution no longer sounds like much of a crime deterrent. Why not sentence criminals to death by incarceration and redirect the millions spent on the death penalty to the law enforcement efforts that actually make us safer?

Steve Monks is a lawyer in Durham.

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