Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Court rejects inmate's plea to halt execution

Published on Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Court rejects inmate's plea to halt execution

The state Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected without comment an attempt by Marcus Reymond Robinson of Fayetteville to stop his execution, which is scheduled for 2 a.m. Friday.

Meanwhile, Robinson and another condemned man, 51-year-old James Edward Thomas, have a lawsuit pending in Wake County Superior Court to try to stop their executions.

The suit claims that the state’s method of execution could cause severe pain. A hearing on the case is scheduled for this afternoon in Raleigh.

Also, 30 state lawmakers, including Rep. Rick Glazier and Sen. Larry Shaw of Fayetteville, asked Gov. Mike Easley on Tuesday to halt all executions.

They want a state commission to evaluate whether North Carolina’s lethal injection practices could be highly painful. If there is intense pain, the process could violate the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

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 state has three executions scheduled from Friday through Feb. 9, a 15-day period. Robinson’s is the first, Thomas’ is the second, and James Adolph Campbell’s is the third.

Robinson was placed in the death watch area of Central Prison on Tuesday.

Robinson, 33, was sentenced to death in 1994 for the June 1991 murder and robbery of 17-year-old Erik Tornblom.

Tornblom was on his way home from work when he met Robinson and Roderick Sylvester Williams Jr. at a convenience store. Williams talked Tornblom into giving them a ride. Then they threatened him with a sawed-off shotgun and forced him to drive them to a field between Legion and Camden roads.

They made Tornblom lie on the ground, shot him in the face and took his 11-year-old car and $27. Williams is serving a life sentence for the murder and robbery.

James Edward Thomas was sentenced to death in 1995 for murdering Teresa Ann West in Wake County. He also has a life sentence for first-degree sexual offense.

Campbell was sentenced to death in Rowan County for the first-degree murder of Katherine Price. He also received two consecutive terms of life imprisonment for rape, a consecutive sentence of 40 years for kidnapping and a consecutive sentence of 10 years for burning personal property.

Robinson’s case before the N.C. Supreme Court claimed that he should not be sentenced to death because his father beat him when he was a young child, causing brain damage. The damage was to the area of the brain that controls impulses and judgment, his lawyers said.

Special Deputy State Attorney General Valerie B. Spalding countered that similar evidence was given to Robinson’s jury in 1994 and the jurors still sentenced him to death. It’s unlikely the new evidence would have changed the outcome, she said.

Supreme Court Justices Ed Brady and Patricia Timmons-Goodson, both of Fayetteville, recused themselves from the case without explanation.

Brady was one of Robinson’s defense lawyers in the early 1990s.

The Wake County lawsuit over whether the execution could cause pain is scheduled to be heard by Superior Court Judge Ripley Rand.

Rand grew up in Fayetteville and is the son of State Sen. Tony Rand of Fayetteville.

Drug-induced death

North Carolina uses lethal injection to kill its condemned inmates. The process, using three drugs, is supposed to render the inmate unconscious, paralyze him and kill him by stopping his heart. The heart-stopping drug is known to react with the walls of the veins and cause a fiery sensation.

The knockout drug is supposed to keep the inmate asleep and unaware of the pain. Robinson’s lawyers say the knockout drug could wear off early, allowing the inmate to wake up and feel the pain. The inmate would not show this pain, they say, because the paralyzing drug prevents muscle movement.

The lawyers are also challenging the role doctors have in executions. State law requires them to be present, but last week the state Medical Board said doctors may not actively participate.

In court papers in a federal lawsuit over lethal injection, Central Prison Warden Marvin Polk said the doctor doesn’t monitor the inmate’s heart rate or consciousness. The doctor is there only to sign a death certificate, Polk said.

A nurse watches the brain wave monitor that indicates the inmate’s level of consciousness, Polk said. An emergency medical technician watches the heart rate.

In light of the three pending executions, the question of pain and a recently botched execution in Florida, 30 state legislators asked Easley to temporarily suspend executions.

In the Florida execution, the executioners did not set the needles in the inmates’ arms correctly. The drugs entered his muscles instead of his veins. It took two doses of the drugs, about twice the usual time to kill him and witnesses said he appeared to suffer.

“Governor Jeb Bush imposed a moratorium on executions in Florida following a December 13, 2006, botched execution during which the condemned inmate clearly suffered a protracted, painful death,” the letter says.

“In addition, eight additional states — Arkansas, California, Delaware, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, South Dakota, and Maryland — have recently halted executions to review their lethal injection process. It is troubling that North Carolina uses the identical drug combination as Florida.”

Glazier, a former criminal defense lawyer, and Shaw, a longtime advocate for a moratorium on executions, are two of the 30 lawmakers making the request. They could not be reached for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Staff writer Paul Woolverton can be reached at or 486-3512..

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