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N.C. Lethal Injections May Be Affected By Calif. Case

Posted February 22, 2006

— A twist in a California death penalty case could affect executions across the country and in North Carolina. The lethal injection controversy is tied up in state and federal courts, where the argument that prompted delays in California is basically the same: who is involved in an execution, and is lethal injection cruel and unusual?

"A clever lawyer could bring it to court in a way that is persuasive," said North Carolina Board of Pharmacy executive director David Work

If a judge in North Carolina also ordered medical professionals to monitor or administer the lethal injection, Work said there would likely be the same outcome as in the case of convicted killer and rapist Michael Angelo Morales in California.

"I doubt that any medical health professional with a license would agree to do that, because they would see immediately that action could be taken on their license to practice," he said.

State Attorney General Roy Cooper says he's monitoring the legal impact.

"Our method has been challenged before and it's been upheld by the courts," said Cooper.

Under North Carolina law, the prison physician must be present for all executions. That physician does not administer the lethal dose. In fact, it's unclear if the doctor even witnesses the execution. The Department of Correction won't discuss its method because it's currently in litigation in federal court.

"It's a very unusual process," said attorney Jim French. "Whether it's cruel or not, it's certainly unusual."

Jim French is involved in another legal fight over the death penalty. He's challenging the state constitution. His fight includes the argument over lethal injection as cruel and unusual punishment, which is the argument that persuaded a California judge to order medical professional to take part in an execution.

"That (argument) will never go away," said French. "We should always ask ourselves as a people among people what's going on in that death chamber."

What is known about the North Carolina method is that the warden or deputy warden must be present and three anonymous members of the prison staff administer the lethal dose. Those three people are not medical professionals, but are volunteers the warden trusts.

A hearing is scheduled to determine whether French's lawsuit can move forward on March 3.


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