Death penalty cases are rare across NC. But Wake County is pursuing one starting Monday.

Wake County prosecutors on Monday will bring a rare death penalty case against Seaga Gillard, a 30-year-old man accused of fatally shooting a pregnant woman inside a Raleigh hotel room.

The case, which dates to the 2016 double slaying at America’s Best Value Inn, will give jurors the option of capital punishment — a choice they have declined in nine straight Raleigh murder trials.

North Carolina has not executed an inmate since 2006, and no death sentence has been imposed statewide for more than two years.

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said Thursday that her office seeks the death penalty in fewer than 5 percent of all homicide cases, reserving it for “the most egregious.”

But the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, a nonprofit law firm that represents defendants on death row, called Wake County “an outlier” for pursuing capital punishment that its juries repeatedly reject.

Wake is the only county out of 100 statewide that sought death sentences in each of the past three years, according to the center’s research. Since 2016, Wake held a quarter of the 12 capital trials across North Carolina.

“Lorrin Freeman is really an outlier,” said Elizabeth Hambourger, attorney with the center. “No other large county is seeking it as she is.”

Hotel room death

In December 2016, Raleigh police charged Gillard, then 28, and Brandon Xavier Hill, then 30, with first-degree murder. Investigators said they shot April Lynn Holland and her boyfriend, Dwayne Garvey, to death in a room at the hotel, charging the two men after they were recorded by surveillance cameras.

Police accused Gillard of shooting Holland, who was four months pregnant, and Hill of shooting Garvey. The couple had three young children.

April Lynn Holland and Dwayne Garvey, who were shot to death on the second floor of the America’s Best Value Inn at 3921 Arrow Drive, off Blue Ridge Road near the Crabtree Valley Mall, before dawn on Dec. 2, 2016. The next day, police charged Seaga Edward Gillard, 28, and Brandon Xavier Hill, 29, with first-degree murder in the double homicide. Courtesy of the Garvey family

Police did not specify a motive for the shooting, but Garvey’s older brother told the N&O in 2016 that the slain man died defending the mother of his children from a man who “she knew from her past, when she was much younger.”

Gillard had a criminal history that predates the hotel shooting, charged with first-degree kidnapping, first-degree forcible sexual offense and assault by strangulation in connection with the 2016 rape of a woman at a Morrisville hotel.

After the hotel shooting, investigators said in a search warrant, he used his smart phone to Google the penalties for double and fetal homicide. Investigators reviewing the search history of Gillard’s smart phone for Dec. 2, 2016 found entries in the search engine including “how much can you face for double homicide.”

Last year, Freeman told the N&O the case was declared capital “a long time ago.”

“The overwhelming majority of cases are not tried capitally,” she emphasized Thursday. “That is consistent with our belief and position that capital punishment is appropriate to be considered only in the most egregious of cases.”

Asked about the possibility jurors will choose death in Gillard’s case, Hambourger said “it’s impossible to predict. That’s one of the problems with the death penalty. It’s a crap shoot.”

Jury selection begins Monday and is expected to last several weeks.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer

Josh Shaffer covers Wake County and federal courts. He has been a reporter for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.