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Judge Refuses to Lift Order Blocking Rich Execution

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RALEIGH — Friday, a federal judge refused to lift his order blocking the execution of condemned killer James David Rich, saying he wants time to weigh Rich's mental competence and other issues.

Thursday night, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Terrence Boyle stayed Rich's execution after a cousin filed a ``next friend'' motion claiming Rich was mentally incompetent.

The judge set a new hearing for 2 p.m. Friday and heard further discussion from Rich's former attorney, who claimed that Rich lacked the mental competence to decide to drop all his appeals and fire his attorneys.

Attorneys for the state questioned the standing of the cousin and the attorney to file the "next friend" motions.

Boyle stayed the execution Thursday night, capping hours of appeals through the state courts.

Earlier, death penalty opponents made their usual pilgrimage from Pullen Park to the prison around 9 p.m.. They went to protest the execution of Rich, who was scheduled to die at 2 a.m. Friday.

Rich wasmoved to the death watch areaof Central Prison Thursday afternoon. He said that he was ready to die, but a lot of people felt like he was not mentally competent to make that decision.

Rich, 26, said he was ready to die in Central Prison's gas chamber early Friday morning. Some say Rich opted for the less humane method of execution because he is mentally ill.

"So we wait for direction from the courts," explained Patty McQuillan of theDepartment of Correction. "We have no control over whether or not he is mentally competent or not. We just do what the courts tell us to do."

Death penalty opponents say the courts failed Rich. Despite a long history of mental illness, he was permitted to fire his attorneys, plead guilty to murdering a fellow inmate and forgo appeals.

"This man is clearly mentally ill," death penalty opponent Stephen Dear said. "He shot himself when he was a little boy, and he was committed to mental hospitals three times as a child. He needs mental health care. He doesn't need to be executed."

Rich's former attorney, Marshall Dayan, said that the execution should have been stopped.

"This man has serious mental health problems, and the state moved forward without ever getting a competency evaluation ordered by the courts," Dayan said.

The attorney said that Rich had not even begun to exhaust his legal appeals.

Rich was going to be the third person to die in the gas chamber since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Most inmates choose lethal injection.

From staff and wire reports.


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