Local Politics

Third Execution Put on Hold

Posted January 26, 2007 6:40 p.m. EST
Updated January 26, 2007 6:43 p.m. EST

— A day after halting two executions over concerns that the absence of a physician could lead to an inhumane death, a Wake County judge on Friday blocked a third execution on the same grounds.

Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens issued an injunction late Friday afternoon to prevent the state from executing James Adolph Campbell, who had been scheduled to die on Feb. 9.

The executions of Marcus Robinson and James Edward Thomas were put on hold Thursday when Stephens ruled that a new policy prohibiting physicians from participating in executions would prevent the state from carrying out the death penalty.

State law requires a physician be present as inmates are given a lethal injection of drugs to ensure the death isn't cruel and unusual, which would violate the state and federal constitutions. But the North Carolina Medical Board last week approved a policy that said physicians risk their licenses if they participate in executions.

The dispute has led at least one state official to call for an emergency meeting of the Council of State to resolve the issue.

"I believe we should resolve this as quickly as possible," Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry said, noting that the Council of State isn't scheduled to meet until next month.

The primary function of the nine-member group, made up of statewide elected officials from Gov. Mike Easley to Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler to Auditor Les Merritt, is to finalize state property sales and leases.

Berry said most members had no idea state law also made them responsible for approving the manner of execution for Death Row inmates.

"We just didn't realize it, and we're kind of blind-sided by it," she said.

Berry expressed frustration that Easley and Attorney General Roy Cooper haven't contacted her to consider ways to satisfy legal conflicts over the role of doctors in state executions. She said physicians could easily be taken out of the process.

"I would have no problem with nurses and paramedics being the qualified (medical) personnel" needed at executions, she said.

Easley's office said he wouldn't comment on legal matters.

Treasurer Richard Moore, another Council of State member and a likely gubernatorial candidate in 2008, issued a statement late Friday saying that he believes the death penalty is warranted for certain crimes but that Stephens' ruling would drive the needed debate over justice and ethics.