RALEIGH, N.C. — A man convicted of the 1992 rape and murder of a 7-year-old girl was executed by the state of North Carolina early Friday as his brother and niece and the uncle of the young victim watched.
Sammy Crystal Perkins, 51, was injected with a lethal dose of chemicals after the U.S. Supreme Court issued two orders Thursday to clear the way. He was declared dead at 2:14 a.m.
By a 5-4 vote, justices turned down a request by defense lawyers to leave a stay in place so Perkins could contest the state's lethal injection execution method. The court also unanimously rejected a defense request to reverse state court rulings against Perkins on the issue of whether improper evidence was allowed during his trial in Pitt County Superior Court.
"I would like to say I love my mother, all my brothers and sisters and all my children. I'll see ya'll on the other side," Perkins said in his last statement before he was wheeled into the execution chamber.
Police officers and prosecutors sat in the witness room along with the victim's uncle and Perkins' relatives and defense lawyers.
He spent the day visiting with his mother and other relatives. Late in the day, he asked for a last meal of fried chicken, sweet potato pie, French fries and a Coke.
Defense lawyers had argued that Perkins took responsibility for raping and smothering Lashenna "Jo Jo" Moore, his girlfriend's granddaughter in Pitt County. But they said his substance abuse and mental illness, including bipolar disorder, meant he should have received a life sentence.
An appeal to Gov. Mike Easley for clemency, in which defense lawyers also said Perkins' trial was faulty because the jury discussed the case too early, was rejected hours before the execution after the high court rejected legal appeals. The lawyers also said Perkins' mental illness wasn't fully presented to the jury because of poor testimony by a defense expert.
Perkins' execution had been stayed by a federal judge who last week said he should be allowed to participate in a lawsuit that challenged the method of execution by injection.
A physician said in an affidavit filed with Boyle's court that an autopsy of a previously executed inmate showed low amounts of an anesthetic in his blood and that "it is most likely that the execution was torture."
Perkins' execution was the first by the state since January. Attorney General Roy Cooper effectively put executions on hold last spring, while the U.S. Supreme Court decided an Alabama case challenging a form of lethal injection sometimes used by the state as cruel and unusual punishment.
The high court cleared the way for the Alabama execution in late May, after which a spokeswoman for Cooper said the state would resume efforts to carry out lethal injections.
The state Department of Correction says it has changed its protocol for executions since the last execution to give more of the anesthetic as the death unfolds. But Central Prison Warden Marvin Polk said he has never seen signs of suffering in 19 executions he has attended.
WRAL's David Crabtree witnessed this and other executions.
"Compared to previous executions I've witnessed, Mr. Perkins went into a deep sleep very quickly, [there was] no convulsing," Crabtree said.
Death penalty opponents have also asked the state lawmakers for a two-year moratorium on executions. So far, that effort has failed.