A North Carolina man facing trial for murdering a little boy made a plea-bargain today to avoid a possible death sentence. Andrew Mark Miller of Fox News reports that Darius Sessoms plead guilty to the August 2020 murder of five-year-old Cannon Hinnant, in exchange for a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP). The murder occurred when Sessoms walked up to the little boy as he was riding his bike in front of his home and shot him in the head at point-blank range. Both of the child’s sisters witnessed the murder. There is no known motive for the crime and the victim’s father told reporters that he considered Sessoms a friend to his family. This plea deal would not have been available in a states which do not have a death penalty.
While death penalty opponents argue about the cost of capital murder trials and the endless appeals (which they support), these claims don’t account for the cases where murderers plead guilty and receive long prison sentences to avoid the possibility of receiving a death sentence. A 2009 study by CJLF Legal Director Kent Scheidegger found that “murder convictions with sentences of 20 years or more were obtained by plea in 18.9% of the cases in counties with the death penalty and 5.0% in those without.” Murderers were nearly four times as likely to plead guilty in jurisdictions with a death penalty, eliminating the cost of the trial and almost all appeals. This reflects the fact that there is no incentive for a killer to plead guilty in states where the highest penalty for aggravated murder is LWOP.