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Author John Grisham Pens Editorial Criticizing Death Penalty in North Carolina

by Scott Grammer

On October 11, 2018, world-famous author and attorney John Grisham published an editorial in a North Carolina newspaper regarding capital punishment in that state.

“Today, there are 141 people on North Carolina’s death row,” Grisham wrote. “By comparison, in Virginia, a state with similar politics, demographics, and crime rates, there are just three. It is both out of line with other states and out of character for North Carolina to have such an outsized death row – especially one made up mostly of people whose trials and sentences are outdated and grossly unfair. The vast majority of North Carolina’s death row inmates were tried in the 1990s before the state, true to its historically progressive ways, passed a whole slew of new laws to make capital prosecutions fair. However, these reforms do not apply to those who were already convicted.”

Grisham discussed several prisoners on death row in particular: “Men like Nathan Bowie, convicted and sentenced to death in Catawba County in 1993. At trial he was represented by an incompetent lawyer who reeked of alcohol and later died of an alcohol-related illness. Three of his clients went to death row, and one has proven his innocence.”

Grisham continued, “Sadly, the list goes on. Seventy-five percent of North Carolina’s death row inmates were tried before all these reforms and would face radically different prosecutions today. Almost none would get the death penalty.... The death penalty is dying, not because of the courage of lawmakers or judges, but because of the compassion shown by jurors who are fully informed in trials that are fair.... By today’s standards, and certainly under today’s laws, the bulk of North Carolina’s death row inmates did not receive fair trials. It’s time for North Carolina to stop fighting for executions that represent not its future, but the battles of an unjust past.”

In August 2019, North Carolina’s Supreme Court heard arguments in an appeal brought by six death row prisoners alleging racial bias in capital punishment cases, including prosecutors using racist language and excluding black jurors. The state’s Racial Justice Act, which allowed death row prisoners to challenge their convictions based on racial discrimination, was repealed in 2013. 



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