Raleigh, N.C. — In the latest move to resume executions in North Carolina, Secretary of Public Safety Frank Perry has approved a single-drug protocol for carrying out lethal injections.
On Oct. 24, Perry signed a 20-page execution protocol using a single drug, pentobarbital, a sedative commonly used to euthanize animals.
Texas switched to pentobarbital in 2012 after having problems getting one of the drugs in its three-part cocktail. Oklahoma and Ohio have also used the sedative to execute prisoners.
According to the protocol, two large doses of the drug will be injected, stopping the inmate's heart.
DPS spokeswoman Pamela Walker confirmed the change is official. Under a law passed this year, the Department of Public Safety has sole authority to determine the manner and procedure of execution in the state, so no further approval is required.
Under the new protocol, executions could technically resume as soon as this month. But in practical terms, it's unclear when or whether that's likely to happen.
Various legal challenges and the adoption of the since-repealed Racial Justice Act have stalled the death penalty in North Carolina since the state's last execution seven years ago.
Questions about physician involvement in executions were settled several years ago, and lawmakers this spring finished repealing the RJA, which allowed death-row inmates to use statistical evidence of bias to challenge their death sentences.
NC Policy Watch, a publication of the left-leaning North Carolina Justice Center, first published the new protocol, and its report states that the change likely won't be enough to revive executions in the state. Attorneys note the numerous challenges to the RJA repeal still need to be sorted out, as well as possible challenges to the new protocol.
Four death row inmates sued the Department of Correction in 2007, alleging that the three-drug cocktail the state used in executions amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Constitution, especially if the first drug to should fail to leave the condemned prisoner unconscious.
The four inmates also alleged that other provisions of the execution protocol either weren't being followed or also violated their constitutional rights.
A Superior Court judge rejected the inmates' claims last year, and the state Court of Appeals was scheduled to hear arguments in the case Wednesday.
The Attorney General's Office and attorneys for the inmates asked the court last week to postpone that date to give them time to review the change to the protocol.