State News

State: Court Is Only Option in Death Penalty Dispute

Posted March 1, 2007

Death Row, Death Penalty, Execution

— The state Attorney General's Office said Thursday that it has concluded court action is the only way out of the deadlock between the State Medical Board and the Department of Corrections over the presence of doctors at executions.

"We accept your position and will prepare to move forward through the legal process," Special Deputy Attorney General Thomas J. Pittman wrote to Dr. H. Arthur McCulloch, board president.

Pittman had met with board lawyers to see if there was a way to resolve the conflict between the state's requirement that a doctor be present at executions and the board's ruling that taking part in an execution violated ethics rules for physicians.

The board's lawyer had suggested the Corrections Department submit specific questions on which the board could rule, but "we were informed that the board had decided it would not entertain such requests and would elect not to respond if they were submitted. Our further efforts to continue this discussion have been rejected," Pittman wrote.

Speaking with reporters after appearing before a Senate judiciary committee meeting, Attorney General Roy Cooper said his office had held discussions with the North Carolina Medical Board and information about those talks could be "coming forth very soon, maybe as early as today."

Last April, a federal judge said an execution could only proceed only if a doctor monitored the inmate to prevent pain. In January, the medical board approved an ethics policy that threatened to punish any doctor who takes part in an execution. State law requires only that a doctor be present.

In attempting to resolve the conflict, the state changed its execution procedure, but in doing so created a legal morass that led Wake Superior Court Judge Donald W. Stephens to put several executions on hold. Attorney General Roy Cooper said last month that he would not return to Stephens' court seeking to reschedule the executions until talking with the medical board.

Stephens had suggested from the bench that Cooper's office would have to negotiate with or sue the medical board, which licenses and disciplines physicians.

North Carolina is one of 11 states where challenges to lethal injection—namely, whether it violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment—have effectively placed executions on hold. The question of doctor participation has figured in some of those disputes.

Stephens stayed two scheduled executions on Jan. 25, finding that in attempting to satisfy the demands of the federal court and the medical board, the state made a change in its execution procedures that required the approval of the governor and Council of State, a panel made up of nine other statewide office holders.

The council met Feb. 6 and quickly approved a new protocol, but Gov. Mike Easley said that day there would be no more executions until the state can "untangle this Gordian knot."

Stephens has also placed two more scheduled executions on hold, but a fifth remains set for March 9 because the inmate has said he wants to die, has fired his lawyers and has no appeals pending.


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  • InTheWind Mar 2, 2007

    joefly1964, AMEN. I am willing to bet the people who object so loudly to the death penalty have never suffered the lost of a loved one to murder. Must murderers in NC get off with little punishment because of plea bargaining. My son was shot with a rifle from 14 feet and the perf was allow to plead guilty to volumtary manslauther. Served 20 months only because he violated parole and we forced the issue. When will these people have feelings for the victim and the victim's loved ones instead of feeling so sorry for a low down piece of trash that kills people without reason.

  • pltgnnr Mar 1, 2007

    If my way of executions were put in effect, no doctors would be needed. Here is what I would propose...The method of execution should be carried out the same way the victim was murdered. If they were shot, then take the convicted person out back, shoot them, and charge the family for the bullet. If they drowned some one, then immidiately after the verdict, take the person to a lake, strap a metal ball to their foot, and kick them off the boat. I think you may get the idea. Holding prisoners on death row for years on end is causing the taxpayers to pay for them to live until they die. The average cost per prisoner in a Max. security prison is roughly 100k per. That is way too much to spend on anyone who is going to die anyway. I think they should simply do away with death row and instate immidiate punishment IMHO.

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Mar 1, 2007

    I'm tired of all the Liberals banking their entire argument on the fact that many innocent people are being convicted and executed. If you look at the facts of each of these cases, they were wrongly convicted because they were convicted using hearsay evidence. DNA was in its infancy, or had not been universally used, when these so-called innocent people were convicted. But today, the odds of someone being wrongly convicted, has been tremendously reduced due to advances in DNA technology. So drop the "innocent conviction" argument. You're fighting a losing battle. Yes, if I killed someone and it wasn't in self-defense, I would walk into the chamber. I was raised properly. Yes Liberals, there is a PROPER way to raise a child. I was taught the difference in right and wrong, and I was taught respect. I don't have to personally deal with an execution of any of my family members due to this. With DNA as it is today, there is no such thing as an innocent man being convicted.

  • twright530 Mar 1, 2007

    The medical doctors dont seem to have any problem with killing when it comes to abortion.

  • Ladidada Mar 1, 2007

    Kill kill kill, die die die......the American cycle of killing and dying continues.

  • raswph Mar 1, 2007

    Good answer Phoebe0715...I agree....

  • ecc1 Mar 1, 2007

    I don't see why they don't use nurses or paramedics? They are also medically trained and as of right now a MD is only there to watch if a person is in pain, and think they would also be able to do that. They never took an oath that includes do no harm.

  • Tax Man Mar 1, 2007

    Well, predictably the docs want to prove their power - so Mr. Cooper please sue them immediately and let's move forward here. At the same time, the legislature should redraft the law and remove any reference to doctors being required at executions. Show them docs that we do not NEED them, we can hire them when we want, but they are not the most important people in this state. And, the state should sue the Medical Board individually and personally for interfering with the proper operation of government - ask for punitive damages in the millions - and let then know that they do not run our state - the legislature, courts and governor do!

  • superman Mar 1, 2007

    I think the legislature should change the law. They should start with the law that gives the State Medical Board control over the doctors in this state. The doctors make a great deal of money off abortions and very little on the executions. It is all about the dollar and about ethics.

  • sixsix210nc Mar 1, 2007

    Many years ago a small third party candidate in my old state went on the record with a *gasp* sensisble compromise to this whole issue. Since clearly a change is neded anyway, why not make some sense? Here's his idea. He said that he would try and pass legislation to the effect of...If a person is convicted of a capital crime, a felony, or any other crime that involved a victim, that the judge would be allowed to give a range of choices for punishment TO THE VICTIM. As a counter balance to vindictive families/victims, the victim had to return a RANGE to the judge who could review it and pass it on to the jury. If you truly do not belive in the death penalty, why should a judge pass it on to the perp? It's not going to give you a sense of justice. Works the other way as well. If yo are ok with the death penalty, how is a light sentance with parole going to work? then again...I belive death penalty protesters should have to adopt a prisoner into their homes. with their kids.