News&Record: Editorial: The last man to die

The last person executed in North Carolina was Samuel Flippen, put to death Aug. 18, 2006, for the murder of his 2-year-old stepdaughter.

It’s possible Flippen forever will remain the last person executed in North Carolina. The state should make sure of that.

Capital punishment is on its last legs here. The only question is whether a handful of condemned prisoners will follow Flippen before the end or whether the practice officially will be brought to a halt.

A trend away from death sentences has been apparent for years. In 1999, 25 prisoners were placed on death row. Sixteen were added in 2000. The numbers have dropped to just two in 2009 and two more so far this year. Juries and even prosecutors by and large prefer sentences of life without parole.

That’s not a soft-on-crime penalty. Locking someone up for the rest of his natural life — often 50 years or more — not only protects the public, it allows for errors to be discovered and corrected. Execution does not.

Many mistakes have been exposed lately. Not only have innocent men been released from prison when new evidence has surfaced, but recent reports reveal that shoddy and dishonest work was turned out for years by the State Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab. In some cases, false evidence led to wrongful convictions — and possibly executions. On Monday, the president of the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys conceded that executions in affected cases should stop pending further reviews of evidence.

A moratorium has been in effect anyway, for reasons that include opposition by the North Carolina Medical Society to lethal-injection protocols.

Another concern is inconsistency. Some death-row inmates are there for crimes less heinous than those committed by people who were given life sentences. Only three weeks before Flippen’s execution for killing one little girl, David Crespi of Charlotte was sentenced to life in prison for murdering his 5-year-old twin daughters.

This year, Demario Atwater was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of UNC student Eve Carson; former Marine Cesar Laurean was sentenced to life for the murder of pregnant Marine Maria Lauterbach; and the death penalty was ruled out in the case of a Charlotte man charged with the first-degree murders of two police officers because of possibly tainted work by a detective.

In practice, the death penalty nearly is eradicated. It is complicated, costly and no longer trusted. Still, 159 people wait for execution on North Carolina’s death row. Most are due further legal proceedings of one kind or another. Most will never be executed. Does the state really want to pick out a final few for execution?

Gov. Bev Perdue should stop further executions and, when it returns to Raleigh next year, the General Assembly should do away with an outdated death penalty.

Leave Samuel Flippen with his dubious distinction.

«The last man to die

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