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Council of State Approves Death Penalty Protocol

Posted February 6, 2007

Death Row, Death Penalty, Execution
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— By a 6-3 vote, state officials approved a revised procedure on Tuesday for carrying out executions in North Carolina, a step that potentially clears the way for the state to resume using the death penalty.

The new "execution protocol" was approved on a voice vote by the Council of State. Gov. Mike Easley said the vote would move the issue where it belonged—back before the courts and with lawmakers at the General Assembly.

The council—the governor, lieutenant governor and the elected heads of eight state government agencies—was forced into the state's ongoing debate over capital punishment by Superior Court Judge Donald W. Stephens. Last month, he placed three executions on hold, citing a law written in 1909 that requires the governor and the council to approve any change in the state's execution procedure.

State corrections officials changed the protocol while trying to resolve the role a doctor must play in the execution process.

State law requires a doctor be present at an execution, but the North Carolina Medical Board said in January that a "physician who engages in any verbal or physical activity ... that facilitates the execution may be subject to disciplinary action."

Meanwhile, the state said in response to a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection that a nurse and a medical technician , not a doctor, would monitor a condemned inmate's vital signs. The state said a doctor would only observe the execution and later sign a death certificate.

That change was apparently designed to satisfy both the medical board and the demands of the federal court, which had previously agreed to let an execution proceed only after the state said a physician and a registered nurse would be present to ensure the inmate did not suffer pain as he was put to death.

But the change also led to Stephens' ruling, and he stayed the executions of Marcus Reymond Robinson, James Adolph Campbell and James Edward Thomas until the council approved the new procedure.

Attorney General Roy Cooper, who voted to approve the new protocol and did not speak with reporters after the meeting, did not immediately return a call seeking comment about whether his office would ask Stephens to vacate his orders.

Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson and Insurance Commissioner Jim Long, all Democrats, voted against the proposal.

"I don't find that we've got jurisdiction to even get into an issue like this," Long said. "I'm very concerned about the Council of State trying to override the state medical board."

Although the council's vote should meet the requirements of the 1909 law, the new execution procedure appears to increase the role of a doctor. Instead of tasking a nurse and medical technician with monitoring an inmate's vital signs, it requires a physician to monitor "the essential body functions of the condemned inmate" and notify the warden if the inmate shows signs of "undue pain and suffering."

Several defense attorneys with clients awaiting execution have said that appears to conflict with the dictates of the medical board, which decided in January that a doctor's participation in capital punishment constitutes "a departure from the ethics of the medical profession."

"The way things have been done today are backward," said Ann Groniger, who represents Thomas. A spokeswoman for the medical board has said the organization won't comment on the new protocol until the full board reviews it.

Easley said he expected the overall question of what role doctors should play will be litigated for some time before ending up before the Legislature.

"No one anticipated the Council of State would be involved in this at this stage, given the complexity of the problem," Easley said.

That's an opinion shared both by defense attorneys and several lawmakers, who at a meeting Monday of a commission examining flaws in the state's death penalty system said the General Assembly must ultimately resolve the issue.

"I have never seen legislators run as fast away from taking on their legislative responsibilities as I have today," said Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, after the panel decided to wait for Tuesday's council meeting before discussing a proposal for an execution moratorium.

"I don't understand ... why the General Assembly would not want to clarify the statute if we have the medical board saying a doctor can't participate even if the needle is put in improperly."

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  • mikeNC Feb 8, 2007


    The most amazing thing happened a few minutes ago. David Henderson, from the State Medical Board, returned my call. I cannot believe it. I did find out some interesting information, Mr. Henderson has the best job ever. He collects a salary, however he doesn't or is not able do anything. He did advise me to write a letter to the board requesting time at their next meeting. So hopefully I will be granted that time. I am not counting on it, but it's just a letter I have to write.

  • mikeNC Feb 7, 2007

    shep, you are most likely correct, I will not recieve a call from the board or Mr. Henderson. However, I will be heard. I have already made arrangements to visit the board's office and I also will be attending the next meeting. Some how or another I intend to voice my opinion to board and I will have my complaint filed against each of the board members.

  • shep8851 Feb 7, 2007

    Mike--I hate to say it, but I would not hold my breath until the Medical Board returns your call. If you were them, sitting on what you perceive to be your golden throne, holding in your hands what you consider to be the literal power of life and death ( employment wise)-would you readily admit that not only the validity of your rules, but your very existance depends on the good will of the North Carolina Legislature?? No-I doubt seriously that you will hear from them.

  • mikeNC Feb 7, 2007


    I agree with you, the medical board should not have a say. The threat by the Medical Board seems to be revokation of a doctor's licence and ability to practice medicine therefore stopping that doctor from earning a living. Hopefully the board will one day return my calls and I will be allowed to voice my opinion. It appears that their phone system has been down for a while, because David Henderson, the Executive Director of the Medical Board, will not return my calls.

  • shep8851 Feb 7, 2007

    While all of the arguments presented here are interesting, and from the presenters perspective, valid I must point out one very simple truth. Just as the U.S. Constitution establishes the supremacy of Federal Law over State Law, the North Carolina Constitution establishes the supremacy of enacted law over the "rules" of agencies such as the North Carolina Medical Board. The North Carolina Medical Board exists solely at the pleasure of the General Assembly, its rule making authority granted by the General Assembly. Why are people so excited about the Medical Boards threat to discipline any Doctor who attends, or participates in a legally sanctioned execution? Executions are a matter of State Law, as is the requirement that a Doctor be present. As much as they may weep and wail, the Medical Boards threat is trumped by state law. Call your next case.

  • deerslayer Feb 7, 2007

    The space is limited to these replies and the program did not allow me to type anymore. Yes, there were other verses and comments made but please notice I did not address them. It was someone else. I addressed yours and another whom I have forgot the name. I took issue with that one also because I felt the reason for quoting it was vague and asked him/her what they meant and someone else took it upon themself to answer for her.
    I respect your opinion and position and I chose to take the Bible as fact. We are entitled to our beliefs and that is good. I must close for now; for I have a class to prepare being Wednesday night and all. If this topic survives until tommorrow we can have some discussion or email me if you like.

    Peace to you my friend and God bless...

  • deerslayer Feb 7, 2007

    OK sas. I will do that for you. Don't know if it will work or not though. I appreciate your honesty and must commend you for it. This is what makes this country great in spite of itself. It is when we can express ourselves without fear of reprisal no matter whether or not we agree with what is said. Try finding a company to fix your problem that allows payments. My HVAC went out and I went with Weather MASTER. They are good and they will work with you.I am sorry to hear of your problem; it is cold out there.

  • deerslayer Feb 7, 2007


    The degree I have came from Southern Christian University. Yes, I am a minister of the Gospel. I addressed two comments that quoted scripture and I addressed the fact that the message conveyed was not in the context that is plain to see without having a degree in Bible. I totally agree with you when you say that some use the Bible for their glory or gain and twist scriptures to mean what they want them to say. That is why there is so much confusion in the religious world that is harmful to others who eventually get turned of to these hippocrites. The Bible may have been penned by man however it claims to be inspired by God by pleniary inspiration. This si the view I hold and base my eternity on. As far as facts, I always look at the entire message, setting and context of what is being said. This way verses are not misinterpreted. The Bible is not so complicated to understand. It is man who makes it complicated by not approaching it with a humble heart.

  • Lightfoot Feb 7, 2007

    I'm all for justice, punishment, AND vengeance! :)
    I’m serious about the lottery prayer. My HVAC just went out and I need all the money I can get!

  • mikeNC Feb 7, 2007

    i apoligize for questioning your faith. Please forgive me. That is something I should never do. I just misread the statements and I got things mixed up.