Brandon L. Garrett


On his book End of Its Rope: How Killing the Death Penalty Can Revive Criminal Justice

Cover Interview of October 08, 2017

A close-up

Turn to page 17 and read the story of two young brothers, Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, who were convicted and sentenced to death in North Carolina in 1984. They would serve decades in prison before DNA tests proved their innocence. Due to the brutality of the murder that they were convicted of, their case was held out as a poster-child for why the death penalty was needed. Now their case symbolizes everything that goes wrong with our death penalty: flimsy evidence, coerced confessions, botched forensics, an overreaching prosecutor, pointless appeals, and slow justice. Their tragic story is unforgettable. But cases like theirs explain why the death penalty is now at the end of its rope.

You can also turn to page 59 and compare a more recent North Carolina death penalty trial, from 2010. There the jury heard the case of a man charged with five homicides at the same time, more than any other person in the state’s history. The jury heard substantial evidence about the defendant’s “sadistic and ritualized” abuse throughout his childhood. The jury chose a life sentence.

And turn to page 5 to look at an image displaying the decline in death sentences in America. You will see how from several hundred death sentences a year in the 1990s, we now have just a few dozen per year. Death sentences have come crashing down.