Following the shooting death of Trooper Kevin Conner, the district attorney in Columbus County is considering whether to pursue the death penalty against his accused killer, Raheem Davis.
North Carolina has not carried out any executions since 2006.
Davis faces a first-degree murder charge after investigators say he shot Conner during a traffic stop early Wednesday.
During a hearing Wednesday, District Attorney Jon David called the case “anything but ordinary” and said he would convene a panel of staff members within his office to determine if he’ll seek the death penalty.
He said they would go “slowly and deliberately” in making that determination.
There are currently 141 people on death row in North Carolina, according to the Department of Public Safety.
State records show last year, five people on death row died of natural causes while they awaited execution.
Cassandra Stubbs, director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project, said the death penalty is “tied up in a series of legal challenges” that relate to issues such as lethal injection and racial bias.
“This is complex, difficult litigation. And, there’s really no end in sight,” she said.
State records show the convictions for some people on death row go back decades. In the oldest case, Wayne Laws was convicted of murder in Davidson County in 1985.
Stubbs has represented defendants on death row, including Bo Jones, who was exonerated in 2008.
“There have been nine people in North Carolina sentenced to death who turned out to be innocent,” Subbs said.
In recent years, the number of people sentenced to death in North Carolina has declined.
In 2012, 2015 and 2017 no one was sentenced to death. In 2013, 2014 and 2016 one person was sentenced to death in each of those years.
In Wake County, juries have declined to sentence defendants to death in the nine most recent capital cases that prosecutors have brought.
Following the most recent case earlier this year, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said, “There are times when the facts of the case are so egregious, so terrible that we believe it’s appropriate for the community to make the decision in the case through the jury process.”
After a deadly prison escape attempt at the Pasquotank Correctional Institute near Elizabeth City in 2017, District Attorney Andrew Womble decided to seek the death penalty against the four prisoners accused of murder in the case.
Republican legislative leaders Sen. Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore at the time said the legal challenges to the death penalty have resulted in a “de facto moratorium.”
They called on Democrats Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein to “restart” the death penalty, even though both Cooper and Stein have expressed their support of capital punishment in certain cases.
“It’s not a question of the will of one individual driving this. These are enormous problems that plague the death penalty in North Carolina,” said Stubbs.
She said it’s not clear when judges will rule on the various outstanding cases involving the death penalty.