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Death sentence not applied in North Carolina murder conviction

Almost two-thirds of American states still have some form of the death penalty. North Carolina is one of those states, but a recent sentencing illustrates that special circumstance must be present before it is handed down by a criminal court.

A man was recently convicted on charges of first degree murder. The alleged homicide occurred while the man was vacationing on North Carolina's Outer Banks with his girlfriend. The two reportedly had an inconsistent relationship history, but may have been together again at the time of the alleged crime.

However, the man returned alone from the vacation. Authorities eventually discovered the girlfriend's body 10 days after her last sighting. According to reports, the woman had been strangled and stabbed.

Although a first degree murder charge usually involves a violent crime, North Carolina state law requires at least one -- from a list of 11 -- aggravating circumstances before a felony will be elevated to a capital felony. Some of those factors include a previous violent criminal history, a particularly violent crime scene, a homicide committed in furtherance of other criminal offenses, and homicides committed to hinder law enforcement officials or for pecuniary gain.

Although some readers may believe that capital punishment may deter potential criminals, there is scant evidence definitively proving that claim. To the contrary, one source reports that the murder rate in non-death penalty states has actually been lower than in capital punishment states for the last twenty years. To the extent that prosecutors have some discretion in seeking sentences against alleged offenders, a criminal defense lawyer might cite these studies in negotiating for a lower sentence or other mitigating factors.

Source: wavy.com, "Summerfield avoids death penalty in NC," Catherine Rogers, July 9, 2013