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Condemned Inmates May Have Fewer Options

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RALEIGH — North Carolina's General Assembly may take away one of the few choices inmates have on death row. Safety concerns may close the state's gas chamber, which will leave lethal injection as the only method of execution.

Since 1990, condemned inmates were offered the opportunity to choose their method of execution -- by lethal injection or the gas chamber. Monday, for example, a man scheduled to die on Friday chose lethal injection.

Death row inmates have little say in such matters as how their cells are arranged and where they can take showers. But there is one thing a death row inmate does have a voice in, and that's his or her method of execution. The choices consist of being strapped to a gurney and receiving a lethal injection, or being strapped into what used to be used as an electric chair and die by lethal gas

The North Carolina Department of Correction wants to take away that choice because it's a safety risk. Meters in the witness room show the deadly levels of cyanide that could put others at risk.

State Senator Fountain Odom says he wants to get rid of the gas chamber, which he says constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

James French, the warden of the Raleigh Central Prison, won't state his opinion on the matter, but he describes how the lethal injection of sodium pentothal and pabulon works.

Legislators also fear that continuing the lethal gas method of execution could put the state's entire death penalty statute in jeopardy, because some other states using the gas chamber have had their death penalties overturned. Judges in those cases ruled the use of cyanide is cruel and unusual punishment.


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