When a Wake County, N.C., jury decided 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, says the Raleigh News & Observer. Samuel 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.
The sentence was a sign of changing times in North Carolina, one of 35 states where capital punishment is allowed but used less and less frequently. “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, 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.