State News

Supreme Court Ruling May Not Lead to Executions in N.C.

Posted April 16, 2008

— The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to approve a widely used method of lethal injection may not be enough to end to North Carolina's unofficial moratorium on executions.

Issued Wednesday, the ruling from the nation's high court signed off on the procedures used in Kentucky, where three drugs are used to sedate, paralyze and kill inmates. Roughly three dozen states, including North Carolina, use similar methods.

However, neither of the lingering legal challenges to North Carolina's death penalty, which have effectively kept execution on hold for more than 18 months, are addressed directly by Wednesday's ruling.

A spokeswoman for State Attorney General Roy Cooper said attorneys are looking at the Supreme Court ruling and trying to determine if it affects North Carolina.

"We've got attorneys who are studying the ruling and are trying to determine how it may impact North Carolina," said Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office.

The state last put an inmate to death in August 2006. Since then, five executions have been put on hold as part of a complex set of legal challenges to the state's death penalty procedures. A sixth execution was halted because of questions about the inmate's mental competence.

In January 2007, Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens stayed several executions after state officials altered the death penalty protocol to satisfy the orders of a federal judge, who said a physician must monitor the process ensure the condemned inmate did not suffer.

Stephens cited a century-old law that requires the Council of State – a body of the state's top elected officials – to approve any change in the process of executing an inmate.

The Council of State went on to approve the change, but attorneys for death row inmates argued the panel didn't adequately consider public input before making the decision. An administrative law judge agreed, but the Council of State rebuffed the judge's conclusion. Attorneys for the inmates are appealing that decision.

Meanwhile, the state medical board adopted a policy in January 2007 that threatened to punish physicians who take part in executions, saying it would violate the profession's code of ethics. Cooper's office sued, and Stephens ruled in September the board had overstepped its authority. That decision is being appealed, too.

Thomas Maher, a former criminal defense attorney who is now executive director of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, in Durham, said he doesn't expect North Carolina will resume executions until those legal issues are resolved.

"I would think it would still be some period of time before executions begin again in North Carolina," Maher said.


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  • WHEEL Apr 17, 2008

    Our Great State can screw up every thing else in its perview but cannot figure out how to execute a wanton killer legally.

  • GetRight Apr 17, 2008

    "All in favor of the death penalty say 'aye'"...


    I'll bet a popular vote on this subject would be OVERWHELMINGLY in favor of the reinstating the death penalty. The problem is once you kill the guy the lawyers just lost a client. Hence, no change.

  • twixandbetwwen Apr 17, 2008

    I think all of these Liberals that try to hold off exexcutions should be ones that have to pay the maintenance cost for keeping these people in prison. Some how, I can't see how you can execute someone wrong when the criminal didn't take into account how much pain the victim was going to suffer.

  • b4self Apr 17, 2008

    tiredofexcusesIIIIIIIIII and miketroll you said exactly what I was thinking but it really doesn't matter the truth is untill our judice system wants things changed (and lawyers are making money the way things are)nothing is going to change so our votes amt to 0000000000

  • miketroll3572 Apr 17, 2008

    And that is why we have all these murders happening. Jail is definately not a deterent anymore, they got it made there.

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Apr 17, 2008

    Tired Of Excuses: "Why can't we vote on the death penalty? All those in favor say 'I'. All those opposed, say 'Nay'."


  • hkypky Apr 17, 2008

    Every time an article is published concerning the death penalty, the Feds., Supreme Court and alike are focused on evaluating how the sentence is administered, whether or not it is cruel and unusual punishment, etc. Fine.

    Yet whenever the story is about NC's view, questions are always raised as to whether or not the person is indeed guilty of the crime or whether they are mentally fit. That's OK too, but not as a reason to be a hold on Capital Punishment. These are two vastly different discussions and, quite frankly, are not necessarily related.

    I don't believe anyone wants to see someone put to death for a crime they did not commit and I will agree that the death penalty is unique in that, once administered, they is no such thing as "reversing the decision."

    The Supreme Court has made their decision. The State of NC should proceed with the sentences. If there are cases in question, review them. For the many cases where there is no question of guilt, make it so.

  • GetRight Apr 16, 2008

    "The Council of State went on to approve the change, but attorneys for death row inmates argued the panel didn't adequately consider public input before making the decision."

    You want public input? Make a statewide vote and then follow on!

    fox - You hit the nail on the head. lawyers will drag out anything they can bill for.

  • whosonfirst Apr 16, 2008

    Bring back the death penalty in NC now. This nonsense about the pain is ridiculous. The constitution protects an individual from "cruel punishment". Natural death can be painful, just watch a cancer patient suffer. So anything with pain CAN NOT be considered cruel. Electrocution and hanging are swift enough to NOT be cruel when you compare it with the death that will come to many of us naturally.

  • MarcoPolo Apr 16, 2008

    Maybe if we had the death penalty it would have prevented the deaths of some high profile people lately. It also may have prevented that 16 yr old who decided to join a gang and do a drive-by.