Being On N.C. Death Row May Not Lead To Speedy Execution
Posted November 14, 2003 5:47 a.m. EST
RALEIGH, N.C. — John Daniels sat on death row for 13 years before Friday morning's execution. Some inmates will live on death row much longer, while others will spend less time there.
Daniels was the sixth inmate executed since the state lifted a temporary moratorium this summer. State officials put a hold on capital punishment while they reviewed questions about whether the death penalty was imposed fairly.
There are currently 196 convicted killers on North Carolina's death row -- 192 men and four women. With a complicated process of appeals, officials said there is no real formula for who dies when.
"It takes, on average, eight to 10 years for a capital case to run its course through the court system," said Keith Acree, of the state Department of Correction. "Every case is different and has its own unique features, and some take longer than others."
Some people on death row have been there longer than 10 years. Norris Taylor was sentenced to death 24 years ago, but his questionable mental capacity has slowed his ultimate sentence. Years of court backlogs are blamed. Plus, the Attorney General's Office appealed to the Supreme Court trying to get defense attorney files.
"The amount of time depends on the particular issues raised in the case," said Ken Rose, director of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham.
Rose argues death row sentences are not always delayed by defense lawyers looking for technicalities to save a client's life. He said the courts and state attorneys slow down the system.
"They're busy in other cases or they've just dropped the ball and forgotten about a particular case," he said.
When critics complain about the cost of keeping convicted killers alive, Rose points to a Duke University report. Because of the expensive capital trials and appeals, the study estimates taxpayers spend $2 million more to execute an inmate than to sentence him to life in prison. Rose argues that living on death row can be worse than dying.
"Life on death row is a form of psychological torture," he said.
Statistics also show that many times, a death sentence does not result in death. Since the 1970s, the majority of inmates who left death row were not executed. Their sentences were overturned to life in prison.
North Carolina taxpayers spend an average of $29,000 a year to feed, clothe and care for death row inmates.