Local News

Death Row Inmate Cautious as Court Holds Up Execution

Posted January 29, 2007
Updated January 30, 2007

— James Thomas assumes that he is going to die. It's just that now he doesn’t know when.

He states this matter-of-factly as he strains to see the reporter through the thick glass and bars in the visitation room  at Central Prison. His speech is low and measured, that of a man who has had more than two decades to ponder his fate. He pauses frequently between thoughts as if he is weighing the effect everything he says will have on the public.

He was scheduled to make the walk to the Prison's death chamber this coming Friday, but a court battle over the role of physicians in executions put his lethal injection and two others on hold last Thursday. Marcus Robinson had been scheduled to be put to death this past Friday, James Campbell on Feb. 9.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald W. Stephens granted injunctions in all three cases last week. At issue is a conflict between a North Carolina Medical Board Policy that prohibits doctors from taking part in an execution and state law that requires a doctor to be present.

Despite the injunction and assurances from his attorneys, Thomas is not convinced that he will not make the walk to the death chamber at the end of the week.

“I'm keeping my focus narrow right now, that in my mind Friday is still a possibility,” Thomas said.

Thomas was convicted in the 1986 killing of Teresa West in Wake County. She was strangled with a pair of pantyhose and sexually assaulted with a telephone receiver.

In court documents, attorneys said Thomas went to buy heroin from West, a Raleigh boarding house manager. They say his drug problem, along with a history of severe abuse as a child, caused him to act impulsively. Thomas says he thinks about what he did all of the time and makes no excuses.

“I can't explain it to myself. I can't explain it to myself,” said Thomas.

Thomas said that at one time he thought he deserved to die, but now, he added, he has changed for the better. He said that in prison, he has studied, taught others and developed a strong faith. He understands why some people, especially victim’s family members, want to see him executed, but he wants to live.

“Somewhere along the line, I realized that I could honor Teresa by being the best person I could be,” Thomas said.

Not everyone agrees with the judge's decision to halt executions. Wayne Uber’s twin brother was murdered in Florida during an armed robbery. Since the incident, he has become an outspoken supporter of capital punishment.

“I think we're showing a high amount of regard for the agony and pain that an inmate might feel and a lot of disregard for victims,” Uber said.

West's uncle met with the governor when Thomas' execution was still on the calendar. WRAL spoke with him last week after that meeting.

“It's just a tragedy for both families. We have no malice, but we do want justice to be carried out and justice to be done,” said former Craven County Sheriff C.W. Bland.

Thomas likens death row to a neighborhood where he has gotten to know everyone—167 inmates to be exact— and their stories. He believes capital punishment is unjust and is something whose consequences state leaders should fully consider as they enter this debate.

“How do we punish? That's what it's about,” said Thomas.

Thomas knows that he may still have to make that walk to the death chamber at a later date, but hopes against hope that he will be spared.

“Deep down, I am absolutely hopeful that can happen,” said Thomas.

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  • E-Diva Jan 30, 2007

    mrr03 - Wouldn't forgiving him just mean let him go?

  • pcmd10 Jan 30, 2007

    JUSTICE - Bible says an EYE for an EYE...we need Iraqi justice. Let him hang just like Saddam Hussein and his cronies.

  • Lightfoot Jan 30, 2007

    The social church club society of today has skewed what forgiveness really means. Forgive means to absolve, pardon, grant relief from payment of, etc. If you forgive a person, they no longer have the pay the debt, whether the debt is money, time in prison, or the forfeiture of their life. You can’t claim you forgive, shine your Christian badge, then demand a person still be punished. If you want them jailed or whacked, then you haven’t forgiven them. Plain and simple. Can’t have it both ways. Jesus didn’t tell the lady, “Your sins are forgiven, but sorry, you still have to be stoned.” I say whack them all and let God deal with forgiving them. If God doesn’t like that plan, He can always go on Oprah or Larry King and let us know.

  • wraltv Jan 30, 2007

    People want to quote the Bible in these cases, but realize, GOD was a supporter of capital punishment and even Himself said it serves as a deterrent of crime. Israel had no prisons. I wonder why that was? Do the crime, you pay. Period. God forgives. No question there, but there are plenty of people with troubled and tormented childhoods that are productive citizens.

  • mrr03 Jan 30, 2007

    Criminals should not go unpunished, however, we as humankind must learn to forgive. In forgiving we find peace not vengeance. Try it you just might find yourself liking it..forgive

  • finallysingle Jan 30, 2007

    Need someone to push the bubble out of the needle? I am your girl...hire me !!!

  • Lightfoot Jan 30, 2007

    First of all, I support capital punishment. Lethal injection, hanging, firing squad, all are acceptable. The criminal could also be killed in the manner in which they killed their victim. If the victim was a child, or older person, or if the crime was especially heinous, then the criminal should be burned at the stake. If God disagrees with any of this, He will come down and personally stop it Himself.

  • perry Jan 30, 2007

    This guy deserves to die. Should he be forgiven, Yes. Should he be punished, most definitely. Remember the victim, I am sure she felt pain. Who cares if he feels pain.

  • r-n-r Jan 30, 2007

    God knows if he is changed or not. Send him on!

  • browneyedgirl Jan 30, 2007

    Supporter of the death penalty.