Skip to main content

December 6, 2022

The Honorable Roy Cooper
Governor of North Carolina
200 North Blount Street
Raleigh, NC 27601

Re: Commutation of North Carolina’s Death Row

Dear Governor Cooper,

We are attorneys, advocates, organizers, and people directly affected by North Carolina's death penalty. Please accept this letter as the first of many discussions about the death penalty, which we hope to have

with your administration in the coming two years. We are honored to begin this process on behalf of North Carolinians who have experienced the traumatic loss of a loved one to murder.

Enclosed with this cover letter is a letter signed by North Carolinians who have each had a loved one taken by homicide. These individuals believe the death penalty fails victims’ families, and broadens the pain caused by violent crime instead of healing it. They urge you to commute the death sentences of every person on North Carolina’s death row, so that our state can begin to focus on public safety strategies that are actually proven to address crime and reduce violence. We join together in asking that, by the end of your term, you commute the death sentences of every person on death row.

These letters mark the launch of an ongoing effort to mobilize our state’s residents to persuade you that the time has come to address North Carolina’s outsized death row. Despite our state’s long pause on executions, North Carolina has the nation’s fifth largest death row, and the resumption of executions remains a constant threat. As Governor, by granting commutations, you have the authority to send the powerful message that North Carolina is turning the page on this archaic practice.

Opposition to the death penalty is building around the country. Last month, Josh Shapiro became the governor-elect of Pennsylvania after publicly supporting death penalty abolition. Earlier this year, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine issued execution reprieves and kept his state’s death penalty on hold because, in his words, it endangers Ohioans. In 2020, Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, who both oppose the death penalty, were elected as Georgia’s U.S. Senators. And every Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, including Joe Biden, declared their support for abolition. In Alabama, Governor Kay Ivey recently halted executions and ordered a “top-to-bottom review” after that state’s third botched execution attempt in the past few months.

North Carolinians would support you in granting commutations. A 2019 poll showed that nearly 75% of voters in this state reject capital punishment for murder, and instead support different forms of punishment. Nationally, a 2021 Gallup Poll showed that 66% of Democrats and 43% of all respondents oppose the death penalty.

There are compelling reasons for this robust and growing public sentiment against the death penalty:

  • North Carolina’s death sentences are poisoned by racism. Your Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice (TREC) found in no uncertain terms, “Evidence demonstrates that the use of capital punishment has been tainted by racial bias.” TREC also found that “North Carolina’s death penalty prioritizes executions for cases with white victims and relies on the sentencing verdicts of juries, many of which have been all-white, that violate constitutional rules regarding jury selection.”
  • Death sentences are part of North Carolina’s past, not its future. Almost all of the people on death row today were tried more than two decades ago under vastly different public standards and laws. Just one unconscionable result of these outdated laws is, of the 12 known cases in which innocent people were sent to death row in North Carolina, 11 are people of color. The TREC report also noted that many on North Carolina’s death row were sent there under a statute no longer in force that required prosecutors to seek death sentences in nearly every case of first-degree murder. North Carolina is the only state in the country to ever have such a law, and it was rightly abolished in 2001.
  • Having the fifth largest death row in the nation wastes resources and does nothing to keep our state safe. There is no reliable evidence that the death penalty deters murder, yet it costs taxpayers millions. It is time for North Carolina to move toward a future in which we rely on evidence-based strategies to reduce violence and nurture communities.

For all of these reasons, on December 10, 2022, our Coalition is launching a campaign to build public support for the commutation of North Carolina’s death row. We invite you and members of your staff to join us.

Over the next two years, we will consistently and persistently work to grow our coalition, and to build public awareness of the urgent need for the commutation of North Carolina’s death row. At any time, we welcome conversation with your administration about how best to achieve this goal.

This is a moral issue, a racial justice issue, and a public safety issue. North Carolinians deserve so much more than the dysfunction, inequity, and trauma that the death penalty perpetuates. We deserve a public safety system rooted in proven strategies with a track record of reducing harm and violence. We look forward to working toward this goal with you over the next two years.


Noel Nickle
Executive Director
NC Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

Megan Smith
Buncombe County Resident
Daughter of parents lost to murder

Alfred Rivera
Cabarrus County Resident
North Carolina death row exoneree
Son of father lost to murder

Pat McCoy
Executive Director, Action NC
Brother of sister lost to murder

The Honorable Vernetta Alston
N.C. House Representative, District 29

Deborah Dicks Maxwell
NAACP of North Carolina

Henderson Hill
Senior Counsel
ACLU Capital Punishment Project

Daryl Atkinson
Forward Justice

The Rev. Dr. Jennifer Copeland
Executive Director
North Carolina Council of Churches

Olivia Ensign
Senior Advocate
Human Rights Watch

Jennifer Marsh
Executive Staff
Self-Help Credit Union

James E. Coleman Jr.
John S. Bradway Professor of the Practice of Law
Director, Duke Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility

Jamie T. Lau
Clinical Professor of Law
Deputy Director, Duke Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility

Kristie Puckett-Williams
Deputy Director for Engagement and Mobilization
ACLU of North Carolina

Daniel Bowes
Policy Director
ACLU of North Carolina

Dawn Blagrove
Executive Director
Emancipate NC

Cierra Cobb
Prison and Jail Family Advocate
Emancipate NC

Kerwin Pittman
Policy and Program Director
Emancipate NC

Laura Holland
Director of Fair Chance Criminal Justice Project
NC Justice Center

Quisha Mallette
Staff Attorney for Fair Chance Criminal Justice Project
NC Justice Center

Aimee Durant
Senior Counsel for Justice System Reform
Southern Coalition for Social Justice

Gretchen Engel
Executive Director
Center for Death Penalty Litigation

Kristin Collins
Communications Director
Center for Death Penalty Litigation

Tyler Swanson
Campaign Strategist, Center for Death Penalty Litigation 
Wake County Board of Education, District 9

James E. Williams Jr.
Of Counsel, Center for Death Penalty Litigation
Chief Public Defender for Orange and Chatham Counties (former)

Ken Rose
Executive Director (former)
Center for Death Penalty Litigation

Jay H. Ferguson
Thomas Ferguson & Beskind, LLP
Durham, NC

Aelya Salman
Durham County Resident

Jon Powell
Director, Restorative Justice Clinic
Campbell School of Law

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.