Byron Waring had been convicted of first-degree murder on June 28 for fatally stabbing Lauren Redman on Nov. 8, 2005. Jurors deliberated less than three hours Monday before agreeing on the death sentence, and Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner choked up as he handed it down from the bench.
Waring's relatives broke down in the courtroom, and Waring, who has shown little emotion during the two-week trial, also appeared shaken as he was led out.
Investigators said Redman was stabbed more than 20 times as she begged for her life inside her Raleigh apartment. Nonetheless, she managed to crawl outside and ask for help before she died.
In a taped confession, Waring said he and another man, Joseph Sanderlin, went to Redman's apartment to collect a debt owned to her former roommate, George Sasser. He told investigators that Sanderlin raped Redman and that they both stabbed her.
Sanderlin is charged with murder in the case, while Sasser is charged as an accessory after the fact. Both men will be tried later.
Prosecutors said the case warranted the death penalty because of the brutality of the slaying. Defense attorneys argued Waring's life should be spared, blaming his troubled childhood and the influence of those around him for the bad choices he made.
"The evidence was overwhelming. The facts were terrible. The evidence was laid out very clearly for them," Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said.
The sentence marks the first time in six years that a Wake County jury has sentenced a defendant to death. In 2001, Fernando Garcia received a death sentence for the beating death of Juliann Bolt in the clubhouse of the Cameron Lake Apartments in 2000.
"(A death-penalty trial is) a very difficult thing for everybody. It's an emotional ordeal to prosecute them or to defend them. It's emotionally grueling and draining for the family of the victims, the family of the defendants," said Raleigh defense attorney Karl Knudsen, who wasn't involved in the Waring case.
The sentence also comes as questions about North Carolina's death penalty are tied up in the legal system. Court battles over a doctor's role in the lethal injection process have stopped executions since January.
"I think the law the case was tried under is clear. I think the sentence to death was clear. How the law is carried out is up to the appellate courts," Willoughby said.