At least 30 people have been murdered in Durham County over the past year and a half, and in all manner of brutality: stabbed, beaten, strangled, decapitated, shot. The victims included innocent children, feuding roommates, scorned lovers, gang rivals and an Anglican priest. Yet so far, none of these murderers, accused or convicted, faces the possibility of punishment by death.

Now there is an exception. Craig Hicks is accused of intentionally killing three Muslim students in February. Durham District Attorney Roger Echols has asked for, and received, permission to allow the state of North Carolina to kill him.

This is a different Echols from the candidate who campaigned on his personal opposition to the death penalty; he explicitly outlined his reasoning in his questionnaires to the INDY and the Durham People’s Alliance. Echols says to preserve the integrity of the trial he can’t disclose why he is seeking the death penalty in this case.

But if Hicks, then why not Andrew Scheper, charged with murdering his roommate by decapitating him and throwing him in a pond? Or Matthew Reed, who allegedly blackmailed and then strangled an Anglican priest? One of the problems with the death penalty is that it’s unevenly applied.

It’s to be expected that many people, especially the victims’ families, want Hicks dead. For whatever reason Hicks killed the three students, apparently he could not control his darker impulses. It’s up to us as better people to control ours.

To continue the discussion, watch After the Shooting, a multimedia documentary produced by UNC students about the complexities of the crime as it relates to mental health, religion, the media and gun violence:

This article appeared in print with the headline “Let Hicks live.”