In 1977, Gary Gilmore's execution by a Utah firing squad ended a 10-year death penalty moratorium and began what has been called the modern era of capital punishment in the United States. This week the 1,000th person will be executed since Gilmore dropped his appeals and uttered his stark last sentence--"Let's do it"--and it will likely be in Raleigh's Central Prison.
This week began with 997 executions having been carried out nationwide, but with seven executions scheduled this week. On Monday in Arkansas, Eric Nance was executed. On Tuesday in Ohio, John Hicks was executed. On Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner called off the execution of Robin Lovitt because DNA evidence was destroyed and his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. And in Nevada, Daryl Mack who was scheduled to die on Thursday, received a stay from the Nevada Supreme Court.
That means that on Friday at 2 a.m. in Raleigh, Vietnam veteran Kenneth Lee Boyd is scheduled to be the 1000th person executed in the U.S. since 1977, the fifth person executed in North Carolina in 2005, and the third here in less than a month. Boyd would be the 38th person executed in North Carolina since executions resumed in 1984.
"It's a milestone that needs to be marked," said Scott Langley, Amnesty International's N.C. Death Penalty Abolition coordinator. "Reaching such an appalling milestone should cause us to examine the current status of the death penalty. It's time to say we've reached this level; we've reached this moment. It's time to say 'No More.'"
Boyd shot and killed his estranged wife, Julie Boyd, and her father, Dillard Curry, on March 4, 1988, in Rockingham County.
Tom Maher, the Chapel Hill attorney who is representing Boyd on appeal, said the killings were "completely out of character and inconsistent" with his client's past. Boyd "was someone who committed a tragic and devastating act, but also someone who loved his family, served his country, and was a contributing member of his community," Maher said.
The murders Boyd committed "were the culmination of marital strain, a history of drinking, and Boyd's inability to deal with stress," Maher said. "Judging Boyd's moral culpability requires examining his life. Kenneth Boyd has an IQ of 77, placing him in the range of Borderline Intellectual Functioning, just one step above mental retardation. He struggled with learning and reading disabilities and dropped out of school after failing several grades."
A motion for appropriate relief was pending in the N.C. Supreme Court, and Boyd's lawyers have asked Gov. Mike Easley to consider commuting Boyd's death sentence to life in prison without parole, Maher said.
"We always have hope," he said.
Stephen Dear, executive director of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, says the 1000th execution will put North Carolina in the national spotlight on Friday, and is a chance to send a message to the nation.
"This isn't about Gov. Easley, ultimately, or the powers that be," Dear says. "Ultimately the powers that be are the people of faith and goodwill who must amplify the call for ending executions. The question before us is how many Kenneth Boyds ... will we allow to be executed before we convince our communities that more killings is not the solution."
Langley said death penalty opponents plan to read the names of all 1,000 executed people during a vigil Thursday night in front of Central Prison. A prayer service for Boyd and his victims is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh followed by a candlelight procession to the prison where a prayer vigil will be maintained until after the execution.
Vigils will also be held at the State Capitol at noon Wednesday and Thursday.