Local News

State Must Satisfy Judge to Keep Executions on Schedule

Posted January 25, 2007 1:00 a.m. EST

— Three scheduled executions in North Carolina could be put on hold Thursday morning if a Superior Court judge is not satisfied with plans from Gov. Mike Easley.

Judge Donald W. Stephens told the state on Wednesday that he will grant attorneys for three inmates an injunction if he is not satisfied that the state can carry out a death sentence without the presence of a doctor.

Marcus Robinson is scheduled to be executed Friday morning for the 1991 shooting death of Erik Tornblom in Fayetteville. James Thomas is scheduled to be put to death Feb. 2 for the 1986 murder of Teresa West in Raleigh. James Adoph Campbell is scheduled to be put to death on Feb. 9.

Questions arose when the North Carolina Medical Board approved a new policy last week prohibiting doctors from taking part in executions.

 "We asked the court to look at that and to grant an injunction to give us some time to look at those questions, since one of those injections is scheduled for less than 48 hours, said Ann Groninger, the attorney for Thomas.

Stephens said he wants Easley and the Council of State to tell him whether an execution can be done without a doctor.

"Unless the governor and the Council of State have found that qualified personnel is not required — the participation by a licensed physician — this court cannot approve an execution," Stephens said.State House minority leader Paul Stam says the current law should take precedent over any medical board policy.

"The medical society can't trump the decision of the elected members of the assembly who have decided that that is the appropriate punishment for premeditated deliberate murder," Stam said.

Defense attorneys are also arguing that the state's lethal injection method of execution is cruel and unusual. If the drugs are not administered properly, the inmate will experience excruciating pain, they say.

Their complaint also cites a recent decision by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to put all executions on hold after a botched execution there. It says eight other states halted executions to review the lethal injection process.

Geoffrey Hosford, an attorney for Robinson, said the intent of law is to have a physician participating in executions. A ruling last April by U.S. District Judge Malcolm Howard in another death-penalty case said that the doctor must monitor vital functions during the execution, Hosford said.

Tom Pitman, an attorney with the Attorney General's Office, said the law states that a physician simply must be present at an execution and sign the death certificate, which Pitman said would not violate the new Medical Board policy.

Other medical professionals, such as nurses and paramedics, are present to handle the execution, and the licensing boards for those groups have taken no public position on the execution issue, Pitman said.

Thirty state lawmakers have sent a letter to Easley calling for him to suspend executions.