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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.]

1972 The United States Supreme Court ruled, in the case of Furman v. Georgia, that the imposition of the death penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment, and was thereby a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, when juries were permitted to exercise unbridled discretion in imposing death sentences. The Court's decision forced many states' legislatures (including North Carolina's General Assembly) to revise their statutes for capital crimes to assure that the death penalty would not be administered in disagreement with this ruling.28
April 1974 In an attempt to comply with the Supreme Court ruling in the Furman case, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted a new statute making the death penalty mandatory for all convictions of first-degree murder.29
2 July 1976 Under North Carolina's new mandatory death penalty law, James Woodson was found guilty of such an offense and was automatically sentenced to death. Woodson challenged the mandatory law, which was upheld by the Supreme Court of North Carolina. This ruling then was overturned on 2 July 1976 by the United States Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision holding the mandatory law unconstitutional. The state's sentencing law was, once again, revised to conform with the Supreme Court's Woodson decision.30
1983 The North Carolina Crime Victims Compensation Act was passed into law by the General Assembly. The Act set up rules for awarding compensation to the victims of crime and established the Crime Victims Compensation Commission.31
1983 The General Assembly gave death row inmates the option of choosing death by lethal injection (instead of death by lethal gas).32
1984 Velma Barfield was executed in North Carolina. She was the first woman executed in the United States since the reinstatement of the death penalty. By 2000, 55 women would be on death row and 4 others executed across the nation.33
1986 The North Carolina Victim Assistance Network was founded. The non-profit group's aim is to assist crime victims in navigating the complexities of the criminal justice system, to help victims find counselors and support groups, and to connect victims with the state-funded Crime Victims Compensation Commission.34
1987 The Crime Victims Compensation Commission received its first budget appropriations from the North Carolina General Assembly and began to pay out disbursements to awaiting claimants. The fund is available to any victim who has suffered injury or death because of a criminal act at a maximum reimbursement of $30,000. The first North Carolinian to receive money under the fund was a rape victim from Durham. She was awarded $623.40 in state money to cover medical expenses.35
1994 David Lawson did not request lethal injection and became the first person in 30 years to die by lethal gas.36
1998 The Crime Victims' Rights Act was passed by the North Carolina General Assembly to implement the Victims' Rights Amendment to the state constitution. The Act specified the roles of various criminal justice officials in supplying information to victims and in assuring other victims' rights at each stage in a criminal case.37
1998 Ricky Lee Sanderson became the last person executed in the state's gas chamber. Sanderson had been convicted of the 1985 murder of sixteen-year-old Susan Holliman. Susan Holliman's father, Hugh Holliman, was later elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives, eventually becoming majority leader of the House Democrats. During recent debates over lethal injection, Holliman has maintained quiet support for the death penalty - a voice within his party for the rights of the victim.38
29 October 1998 A statutory amendment was passed by the North Carolina General Assembly which eliminated execution by lethal gas, making lethal injection the state's only method of execution.39
22 April 2003 The North Carolina State Senate passed S.B. 972, which ordered a two-year study of the inequities in capital sentencing along racial, economic, and geographic lines. Sponsored by Senator Ellie Kinnaird (Dem. - Orange), the moratorium bill was supported by over 750 endorsers, including the cities of Charlotte, Greensboro, and Chapel Hill, and Orange and Durham counties. The bill was later defeated in the North Carolina House of Representatives.40
17 April 2006 After hearing testimony from Department of Corrections officials stating that a doctor and a nurse would monitor the condemned inmate's brain waves, U.S. District Judge Malcolm Howard ruled that the execution of Willie Brown could move forward. Under the ruling, Brown was executed on 21 April 2006.41
25 July 2006 Citing his own decision in the case of Willie Brown, Judge Howard issued a similar order allowing the execution of Samuel Flippen to continue. Flippen was executed on 18 August 2006.42
28 November 2006 Central Prison Warden Marvin Polk testified in a deposition that the doctor's only role in the execution of Willie Brown was to be present and that he did not have any role in reading the brain-wave machine.43
18 January 2007 The N.C. Medical Board approved an ethics policy that prohibited a doctor from doing anything more than being present at an execution.44
25 January 2007 Wake Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens delayed two executions, saying prison officials must get Governor Mike Easley and the Council of State to approve revised execution procedures. (In the weeks that followed, Stephens delayed two more executions.)45
6 February 2007 Governor Mike Easley and the Council of State revised execution procedures by stipulating that a physician must monitor the condemned inmate's essential body functions.46
6 March 2007 Prison officials announced that they could not find a willing doctor for the execution of Allen Holman, who wanted to be put to death. They also sued the medical board, asking a judge to rule that the board could not discipline a doctor for being involved in an execution.47
April 2007 Governor Mike Easley stated publicly that neither he nor the legislature would take any steps to end the de facto moratorium on executions "until [there is] some final ruling from the federal and state courts."48
9 August 2007 Judge Fred G. Morrison, Jr., ruled that the Council of State erred when it refused to hear arguments from attorneys for death row inmates before approving the state's new execution protocol earlier that year.49
28 December 2007 The United States Supreme Court indicated that it would hear the case of a condemned Kentucky man, Ralph Baze, who was suing to challenge the constitutionality of Kentucky's practice of lethal injection (Baze et al. v. Rees et al.). The Supreme Court ordered all final briefs to be filed prior to 28 December 2007. The ruling in this case may break the standstill, one way or another, that has halted executions in eleven states across the country.50