Local News

Attorneys Seek State Delay in Lethal Injection Debate

Posted September 26, 2007 6:35 p.m. EDT

Death Row, Death Penalty, prisoner

— Attorneys for death-row inmates asked state officials Wednesday to put off possible changes to North Carolina's execution protocol in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to address the constitutionality of lethal injections.

The high court on Tuesday agreed to hear a challenge from two Kentucky inmates who alleged that the state's lethal injection method of execution amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

The Council of State, a nine-member board that includes Gov. Mike Easley and other statewide elected officials, is expected to discuss North Carolina's execution protocol next month.

Senior Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison Jr. ruled last month that officials need to consider input from attorneys representing death-row inmates before adjusting the protocol to ensure condemned inmates don't suffer during executions. His ruling addressed some of the same issues covered in the Kentucky case and in a recent federal court ruling in Tennessee.

"If the Council of State acts on the proposed protocol now, prior to the Supreme Court's ruling in (the Kentucky case), it runs the risk of approving a death penalty procedure that within months or even weeks may be declared unconstitutionally flawed by our highest court," the attorneys wrote in the letter.

North Carolina's use of lethal injection has been tied up in the courts for months after the North Carolina Medical Board adopted a policy that threatened to revoke the medical licenses from physicians who participate in executions.

A judge last week ruled that the medical board had overstepped its authority and couldn't punish physicians for taking part in a state-sanctioned execution.