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State Must Satisfy Judge to Keep Executions on Schedule

Posted January 24, 2007
Updated January 25, 2007

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— A Wake County judge said Wednesday that he would block three scheduled executions if state officials cannot come up with a protocol for carrying out the death penalty without physicians.

Superior Court Judge Donald W. Stephens said North Carolina wouldn't be able to comply with its death-penalty statute if a new rule prohibiting physicians from participating in executions is upheld. He gave Gov. Mike Easley and the Council of State until 10 a.m. Thursday to devise a new protocol for carrying out executions.

Without a new protocol, Stephens said he would issue an injunction to halt the three executions scheduled for the next two weeks until the legal issues could be resolved.

"Unless the governor and the Council of State have found that qualified personnel is not required — the participation by a licensed physician — this court cannot approve an execution," Stephens said.

Marcus Robinson is to be executed Friday for the 1991 murder of a Fayetteville teenager. James Edward Thomas is scheduled to be executed Feb. 2, and James Adoph Campbell is scheduled to be put to death on Feb. 9.

Attorneys for Robinson and Thomas asked Stephens to block the executions on the grounds that the state can't assure they would die without pain.

"We asked the court to look at that and to grant an injunction to give us some time to look at those questions, since one of those injections is scheduled for less than 48 hours, said Ann Groninger, the attorney for Thomas.

North Carolina uses lethal injection for executions, and state law requires that a physician be present when inmates receive the deadly cocktail.

But the North Carolina Medical Board last week approved a policy that prohibits physicians from participating in executions, saying doing so would violate the profession's ethics. Anyone violating the rule could lose his or her medical license.

Geoffrey Hosford, an attorney for Robinson, said the intent of law is to have a physician participating in executions. A ruling last April by U.S. District Judge Malcolm Howard in another death-penalty case said that the doctor must monitor vital functions during the execution, Hosford said.

State House minority leader Paul Stam said the current law should take precedent over any medical board policy.

"The medical society can't trump the decision of the elected members of the assembly who have decided that that is the appropriate punishment for premeditated deliberate murder," Stam said.

Tom Pitman, an attorney with the Attorney General's Office, said the law states that a physician simply must be present at an execution and sign the death certificate, which Pitman said would  not violate the new Medical Board policy.

Other medical professionals, such as nurses and paramedics, are present to handle the execution, and the licensing boards for those groups have taken no public position on the execution issue, Pitman said.

But Robert Zaytoun, an attorney for death-row inmate James Edward Thomas, said the law didn't intend for the physician to be "a potted plant" and that the Medical Board policy creates a "moral and legal conundrum."

Stephens agreed with the inmates' lawyers, saying the state's argument doesn't make sense. Standing by at an execution creates "an awkward position for a medical professional," he said.

Thirty state lawmakers have sent a letter to Easley calling for him to suspend executions. They referred to states like Florida, where Gov. Jeb Bush issued a moratorium after a botched lethal injection.

This story is closed for comments.

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  • rmewife27 Jan 25, 2007

    Yah lets make sure it doesnt hurt them. ARE YOU GUYS CRAZY?? They didnt think about the pain they were causing to the others why should we care about them? I KNOW I DONT! Like said before if it was one of my childrem...it would have already been taken care of!!!!! Do it and get it over with and stop waisting our money!

  • granny2shoes Jan 25, 2007

    Did these murderers think about whether their acts caused pain to their victims? Who cares if it hurts. It's stupid, when you are put to sleep for surgery, you don't know anything -- so they are put to sleep first -- they don't know anything -- give me a break! I'm tired of the criminals being treated like first class citizens. When they broke the law, they gave up all their rights - they deserve to pay for what they have done. Death - not free meals, exercise rooms, etc. for the rest of their lives in prison. Prison is hell - I don't want to go there - therefore, I don't do anything that will put me there. People need to think before they react. And they need to be willing to pay the consequences when they don't think.

  • crckttsgr Jan 25, 2007

    This is crap!!! And trust me I wanted to use a less PC word. You're right mtndewgyrl, the criminals are protected by the government, along with all these bleeding hearts that want to quote the Bible and stand by with their self-righteous puke! I AM a Christian, I AM SAVED! Having said that, I believe the death penalty started with GOD Himself!! The Flood! Sodom & Gomorrah!! Evilness is punished by death! God set the precedent, God gave us the rules to live by, and informed us of what to do when someone doesn't. All these cry babies spewing how wrong it is, would be the FIRST ones to pull the trigger if THEIR loved one had been murdered. They sure as hell wouldn't be shouting about how cruel it is, or how painful. Hypocrites!! All of you who sit there preaching forgiveness for this kind of crime are just hypocrites and you know it if you'd be honest with yourself. Makes me sick.

  • christinewise Jan 25, 2007

    Excellent point about the dialysis...lets face it most medical procedures are now completed by someone other than a doctor now. Even anesthesia for surgery...the days of a doctor being physically present to oversee anesthesia during surgery are over; now a Nurse Anesthetist takes care of everything and the Doctor only signs on the dotted line.
    Why is that good enough for all law abiding people and "cruel and unusual" for a killer?

  • mx5gg Jan 25, 2007

    Give me a eff'n break.... every time I hear the freaks out there spouting in defense for the murderers that it would be "cruel and unusual punishment" and that "they will have pain".... makes me sick... They are more worried about the rights of the murderers above and beyond the victims that are now dead by these murderers. Lets see... one of the victim... minding his own business.. being asked by one of these murders for a ride... this murderer and his partner hijacks the victim.. the victim begs for his life and not to be hurt... they take him to a secluded place... robs him.... then shoots him... what about the suffering for god how many tens of minutes begging for his life before being shot/killed... Oh yeah, it is said that the murder prior to this said " I am going to kill me a cracker today "...

  • A_Patriot Jan 25, 2007

    Yet another activist judge. Sigh.

  • glsnapp Jan 25, 2007

    What difference does it make if a doctor is present -- DEAD IS DEAD --- there was not this much thought process about the victims -- be done with it already, geez --

  • broberts Jan 25, 2007

    Who cares what kind of suffering they endure!! Did they consider that when comitting the crime? I beleive you should be killed the way you killed. I hope they do not get a stay of execution. Was there a doctor present to make sure their victims didn't suffer? Prisons are already over crowded. Why make the tax payers suffer.

  • superman Jan 25, 2007

    So where they find this dead beat judge? He been hiding under a rock-- the legislature wrote the law and passed it. A judge should not be able to stop something that has been legally approved by another judge and jury-- He didnt even hear the case. what a complicated world we live in. I say they had a trial, they had their appeals and now it is time to go.

  • klrs0417 Jan 25, 2007

    Did these men think about how much pain they have caused to the victim or to the victim's families that have to live with what these men did? No, they didn't care about that pain. So why should we care about their pain. They need to feel pain. We have fed, clothed, gave them a place to sleep with our tax money, while their lawyers have fought to keep them alive. The victims families were not even given a chance to fight to kept their loved ones alive.