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Report: Many N.C. Death Row Inmates Did Not Receive Adequate Counsel

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A report from the Common Sense Foundation claims that 35 death row inmates in North Carolina were denied their right to a competent defense. The report highlights state-appointed attorneys who were censured, suspended or disbarred.

"There's a pattern of representation by people appointed by the state who are the worst of the worst," said David Miller, research director for the Common Sense Foundation.

Miller said executions of death row inmates need to stop while cases are retried and the attorney appointment process is improved.

"We think there's a real risk every day that someone could be executed who didn't have adequate counsel. Just did not have a lawyer who even met minimum standards of competency," he said.

"The fact that there was an incompetent attorney doesn't necessarily mean that there was a not guilty client. It does indicate there was a problem in the appointment process," state Rep. Sam Ellis, R-Wake, said.

Ellis said Indigent Defense Services, formed last year, is improving the way attorneys are screened and chosen for capital cases. He said he supports reviewing death row cases in question, but not necessarily retrying them or stopping scheduled executions.

"I hate to see incompetence be the reason that we destroy law," Ellis said.

For death penalty opponents, the information from the report is just one of many reasons to end the practice, or at least put it on hold.

"Since it's the state responsibility to appoint good lawyers for people who are on trial for their lives, we think this needs to happen. They need to have new trials," Miller said.

There are currently 207 inmates on death row at Central Prison in Raleigh. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977, 21 people have been executed. 101 death row inmates have had their sentences revised to life or less. Only one person has been retried and found not guilty.

The last execution in North Carolina was Novemeber 2001 when John Hardy Rose was executed. The oldest case on death row is that of Norris Taylor, who has been in Central Prison since 1979.


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