"Death Penalty Cases Dwindle" From Raleigh News and Observer
When a Wake County jury decided late last month to spare the life of a man that prosecutors described as a "monster" and "cold-blooded serial killer," death penalty opponents quietly hugged one another.
Samuel J. Cooper, 33, whom defense attorneys had portrayed as mentally scarred from years of physical and emotional abuse, would not join the 157 inmates on North Carolina's death row. The killer, convicted by the same jury of five first-degree murders, would spend the rest of his life in prison without possibility of parole..."You look at that case as a prosecutor and say, 'If you can't get the death penalty in that case, gee, what case are you going to get the death penalty in?'" said Jim Woodall, the district attorney in Orange and Chatham counties who also serves as president of the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys. "More and more, the climate is against trying capital cases; therefore, you have to have almost a perfect trial for it to be upheld."
The Cooper sentence came one day after federal prosecutors accepted a plea deal in the capital case of Demario Atwater, one of two men accused of murdering Eve Carson, who was student body president at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Atwater, one of the few in North Carolina charged both in state and federal court for the same crime, agreed April 19 to plead guilty to federal kidnapping and carjacking charges, crimes that could have resulted in a death penalty. In exchange for the guilty plea, Atwater was assured a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole, not death by lethal injection.
Atwater still faces the possibility of capital punishment if he is convicted on state charges of murder and kidnapping. He is being tried in Orange County, where no jury has returned a death sentence in modern times...
Woodall, the Orange-Chatham district attorney, says recent legislative actions and the three-year halt of executions have made him question, too, whether leaders still strongly support a death penalty in this state.
Woodall said that he and other prosecutors believe "the will of the state is not clear."