Decision to ban death qualification could change deaths in North Carolina

Closing arguments were made in the ACLU’s motion to exclude the death penalty process from Brandon Hill’s capital murder trial.

A forthcoming decision by a senior judge could change the way capital cases are conducted in North Carolina.

According to Raleigh Police, Hill was caught on camera fatally shooting 28-year-old Dwayne Garvey at a motel in December 2016.

Hill was charged with first-degree murder and appeared in Wake County court Friday with his attorneys. They weren’t there to dispute Hill’s innocence, however.

In recent months, Hill’s attorneys have filed a motion with the ACLU to disqualify the death penalty in Hill’s capital case.

To serve on a grand jury in North Carolina, prospective jurors must be willing to sentence someone to either death or life imprisonment.

If a person says they cannot sentence a defendant to death, they are removed from the jury.

Hill’s attorneys say a recent study by Michigan State University researchers showed that in 10 of the last 11 Wake County deaths, black jurors were twice as likely to be removed as white jurors, and black women were the most likely to be removed.

Hill’s attorneys argue that using the death penalty in this case would be unconstitutional because it would deprive Hill of a representative jury of his peers.

“The denial of the African American community’s right to vote by the jury box is an ongoing problem,” said ACLU Attorney Henderson Hill. “And it’s a painful problem.”

If District 10 Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway ruled with the ACLU, it would set a significant precedent for future capital cases in North Carolina.

In arguing against the motion, the state defended the death penalty, saying it was pointless to select jurors who were not open to both sentencing options.

When asked by Hill’s attorneys whether the death penalty was used to discriminate against black jurors, Wake County Assistant District Attorney Melanie Shekita replied, “I would dispute that.”

The lead prosecutor called the motion a political debate that should be conducted in the legislature, not in a courtroom.

“All of this goes to show that this whole thing that we did has nothing to do with this actual case,” said Katy Pomeroy.

Both sides presented their closing arguments on Friday and the judge is expected to rule in the coming days.

No start date has been set for Hill’s trial.