State News

2 N.C. Inmates Want to Halt Executions

Two death row inmates scheduled to die in the next 10 days want the courts to stop their executions. Plus, a group of state lawmakers have joined the debate.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Two North Carolina death row inmates scheduled to die in the next 10 days have asked the courts to stop their executions because they say there's no guarantee they'll die painlessly.

Also Tuesday, 30 Democratic members of the General Assembly asked Gov. Mike Easley to suspend executions immediately until the state can assure its method of lethal injection does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

State Sen. Eleanor Kinnaird, D-Orange, said in a statement that a bill creating a legislative study commission on lethal injection would be filed "in response to the mounting evidence that the procedure used to execute prisoners in North Carolina has the potential to cause undue and excruciating pain."

Seth Effron, a spokesman for Easley, said Tuesday that "the governor will follow the law as he is required to do." He did not offer additional explanation.

The court filing in North Carolina, entered late Monday, contended the state can no longer assure that a doctor will monitor the execution for problems. State law requires a doctor to attend the execution, but the North Carolina Medical Board approved a policy last week that forbids the doctor from participating in any way, including the monitoring of an inmate's consciousness.

The inmate scheduled to die Friday, Marcus Reymond Robinson, 33, was moved Tuesday to a cell block at Central Prison in Raleigh where guards will watch him around the clock.

Robinson was sentenced to death for the 1991 murder and robbery of a Fayetteville teenager.

The request for a temporary restraining order also was filed on behalf of James Edward Thomas, 51, who is scheduled to be executed February 2 for the murder in 1986 of Teresa West in Raleigh.

Lawyers said a drug used in executions to induce sleep before the inmates are killed is short-acting and could allow the prisoners to awake, paralyzed by another drug, and suffering extreme pain. They said veterinarians use a longer-acting barbiturate to euthanize animals.

"The lack of adequate standards for administration of the chemicals, the lack of qualifications of the personnel involved in the process and the combination of the three particular drugs used in the defendants' protocol create a grave and substantial risk that plaintiffs will be conscious throughout the execution process," the filing said.

Attorneys also cite Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who recently intervened to impose a moratorium after a botched execution. It also said eight other states had halted executions to review the lethal injection process.

The request for a temporary restraining order was in Wake Superior Court and state attorneys said early Tuesday they hadn't formally received a copy of the lawsuit.

Robinson's attorneys also asked a Cumberland County judge to stop the execution, but he refused and the case was appealed Monday to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Robinson's attorney have asked Easley to stop the execution with his executive clemency power. Lawyers for Thomas were meeting Tuesday with Easley while death penalty protesters gathered for a rally at the state Capitol.

Defense lawyers said the execution also should be stopped because two federal judges are considering whether the state's execution process is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

The state Department of Correction uses a brain monitor to help determine if the inmate is asleep or needs additional drugs during an execution.