Local News

N.C. Execution Carried Out With Brain Monitor

Posted April 21, 2006

— A North Carolina man executed Friday for the 1983 slaying of a convenience store clerk was put to death wearing a monitor to measure whether he was asleep before being injected with deadly chemicals.

Willie Brown Jr., 61, was pronounced dead at 2:11 a.m. by Marvin Polk, warden of Central Prison in Raleigh. He had been sentenced to death for killing Vallerie Ann Roberson Dixon.

Brown's lawyers had fought to stop the execution, saying no one could be certain that he would be asleep. A federal judge had threatened to halt the execution if the state did not convince him that Brown could be sedated if he shows signs of awakening, but allowed the execution after the state purchased the monitor.

"No additional sedation was needed before the lethal drugs were administered," said Department of Correction spokesman Keith Acree, who said a doctor and nurse watched the bispectral index monitor to be certain Brown was unconscious. It was the first time the monitor had been used in a North Carolina execution and officials said it has not been used in other states.

Family members say the change did not make it any easier for Brown to face his execution.

"It's a new machine they're trying out. He feels like he's been an experiment," said James Brown, Willie's brother.

Defense lawyer Don Cowan, who watched the execution, said he "didn't see anything tonight that changed my mind. Based on what I saw, I don't know if the judge's concerns were met."

Cowan had wanted to know the specific qualifications of the medical staff, but U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Howard ruled the state's assertion that it was using a licensed doctor and nurse was sufficient.

Before he was injected, Brown looked into the witness room at his brother and sister, nodded and mouthed "I love you." As the chemicals were injected, Brown's chest heaved and his tongue fluttered before he lay still with his mouth open. His sister sobbed quietly.

Brown had electrocardiogram leads attached to his chest and intravenous lines in his arms. He also wore the brain monitor's white, bandage-like sensor that ran from his left temple across his forehead.

Brown's nieces, who were among two dozen relatives who came to the prison, said their uncle was innocent.

"He was a person," said niece Jamie Brown of Charlotte. "He wasn't a monster."

William Dixon, husband of the victim and a witness to the execution, said in a written statement that he was satisfied with the execution and felt sorry for Brown's family.

"For years, I was thinking that he was going free again to do bad things to other people," Dixon said.

As the clock ticked toward the execution, Brown lost appeal after appeal in federal courts, ending with the Supreme Court, and his clemency request was rejected by Gov. Mike Easley.

Several hours before the execution, Brown had a last meal of well-done T-bone steak, rice, rolls with butter and German chocolate cake. He did not make a last statement.


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