Skip to main content
UNC Libraries


Timeline - Capital Punishment in North Carolina

(1608-1909) > (1910-1971) > (1972-2007)

[Following each entry on the timeline is a citation of the source from which the event entry is derived.]

18 March 1910 Walter Morrison, a laborer and twice-convicted criminal from Robeson County, became the first man to die in the state's newly-installed electric chair at Central Prison. He was sentenced to death for the rape of a Croatan woman. The state's first electrocution consisted of four rounds of 1,800-volt shocks delivered to Morrison before the attending physicians pronounced him dead.13
28 January 1916 The state's first double electrocution took the lives of convicted criminals Ed Walker and Jeff Dorsett, both of Guilford County. Minutes after the executions, Warden (and de facto executioner) Tom Peter Sale died in his office from a massive heart attack. According to newspaper reports, Warden Sale was in the process of signing the death certificates when he collapsed.14
1 September 1916 Fifteen minutes before they were scheduled to die in the electric chair, Governor Thomas W. Bickett commuted the sentences of Hardy Wiggins and Merrett Miller to life in prison.15
1917 Rufus Satterfield was electrocuted for six minutes and fifteen seconds until he was pronounced dead. The length of the electrocution prompted some lawmakers to believe that the electric chair was old and failing. Efforts to replace the chair with a new chair were thwarted.16
1883-1928 With the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the post-Reconstruction era, there were great increases in mob violence and lynchings in the South during the late 19th- and early 20th-century. Between the years 1883 and 1928, there were 92 reported lynchings in North Carolina; 77 of the victims were black and 15 white. Interestingly, in 1914 the Department of Records and Research at Tuskegee Institute (Ala.) began to collect data on instances of prevented lynchings in the United States, reporting 404 instances of prevention from 1914 to 1924.17
12 Oct. 1922 McIver Burnett, 16 years old, was electrocuted for the rape of Melissa McGhee. Eighty-two witnesses crammed into the execution chamber to observe the event, "crowded so thickly that when one woman fainted during the electrocution, she could not fall to the floor." The News and Observer also reported that "outnumbering any single class of seekers for admission were youths wearing the red caps that distinguish State College freshmen."19
1923 Governor Cameron Morrison was compelled five times in one year to order troops from the North Carolina National Guard into duty to protect black citizens awaiting trial. He stated that he intended to use "every particle of power given to me by the Constitution of the State to prevent lynchings in North Carolina."18
1925 In response to the size of the witness pool in the execution of McIver Burnett in 1922, the North Carolina General Assembly revised state law to indicate plainly that only twelve citizens would be allowed to view executions at Central Prison.20
1929 Established in the 1868 state constitution, the North Carolina Board of Charities and Public Welfare published an official report on executions that had occurred in the state. The report was edited by noted capital punishment abolitionist Nell Battle Lewis.21
1935 The North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill making lethal gas the state's official method of execution. The bill was sponsored by Dr. Charles Peterson, who used his medical expertise to argue that lethal gas was a more humane method of execution than electrocution. The bill passed unanimously.22
24 January 1936 Allen Foster, sentenced to death in Hoke County for murder, became the first person to be put to death in the state's new gas chamber.23
1 July 1938 Wiley Brice, who was sentenced to death by the Superior Court in Alamance County, was the last person to die in North Carolina by the electric chair.24
1949 The North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill allowing juries the option of recommending life imprisonment, instead of the death penalty, in cases where defendants were convicted of rape or murder.25
1963-1971 The lobby group known as North Carolinians Against the Death Penalty supported legislative bills for abolition of the death penalty at each of the biennial sessions of the North Carolina General Assembly (1963, 1965, 1967, 1969, and 1971). Despite support for abolition by North Carolina Governor Bob Scott, former Governor Terry Sanford, State Attorney General Robert Morgan, and State Commissioner of Corrections Lee Bounds, each of the bills was voted down.26