Winston Salem Journal: Editorial: Life without parole is a viable alternative

First post of the new year and it’s a good one… 

By John Railey

“Ricky Sanderson was a murderer who should have spent the rest of his life in a prison cell, alone with thoughts about the 16-year-old girl he stabbed to death in Davidson County in 1985 and buried in a shallow grave.

But Sanderson, who claimed to be a born-again Christian, said during one of my numerous interviews with him at Central Prison that he deserved to die. He was 38, paunchy and gray-haired, and he stared through flat hazel eyes as he talked. He kidnapped Suzi Holliman from her home. “I remember her last words were that she just wanted to go home,” he said. “I think she knew that wasn’t going to happen.”

Sanderson was executed in 1998 for the slaying of Suzi, the daughter of former state Rep. Hugh Holliman of Lexington, who lost his seat in the November election.

As the debate over North Carolina’s death penalty again heats up, I’ve been thinking about the Sanderson case and all the other death-penalty cases I’ve written about since I entered this business in 1985, as well as the murder cases that should have been death-penalty ones but weren’t. I’ve thought about all the loved ones of both the victims and the killers I’ve interviewed and their haunting stories. I’ve thought about my visits to Death Row in Raleigh’s Central Prison.

And I keep coming back to the same conclusion: Life without parole, which this state has, is a brutal but appropriate punishment because it leaves killers to confront their guilt for the rest of their natural days in a cage. And the death penalty, at least as it’s administered by the state of North Carolina — which means each and every one of us — is an arbitrary crap shoot.”

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