Friday, 26 January 2007

USA (North Carolina) James Edward Thomas (m), black, aged 51

- From Amnesty International USA

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26 January 2007

Further information on UA 18/07 (24 January 2007) - Death
penalty / Legal concern

USA (North Carolina) James Edward Thomas (m), black, aged 51

On 25 January 2007 in Raleigh, North Carolina, Wake County
Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens blocked the execution
of James Thomas who was scheduled to be put to death on 2
February 2007 for the murder of Teresa Ann West in June

Judge Stephens' order followed an appeal filed by lawyers
for James Thomas and fellow death row inmate Marcus Robinson
(see UA 14/07, 18 January, Their
petition for injunctive relief cited a decision taken by the
North Carolina Medical Board on 17 January 2007 prohibiting
doctors from participating in executions in the state. Under
the terms of the decision, medical professionals would not
be disciplined for being present at an execution, but are
prohibited from administering the lethal drugs or assisting
with the execution. The lawyers argued that the absence of a
physician monitoring and supervising the condemned
prisoner's medical condition created the risk that the
execution would cause pain and suffering that would violate
the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Following a hearing, Judge Stephens noted that the state
correctional authorities had not challenged the legal
authority of the Medical Board to prohibit the participation
of doctors in executions. He also noted that the authorities
had chosen to comply with the Medical Board's decision so
that physicians would no longer directly participate in
executions. According to Judge Stephens' order, the
correctional authorities have said that ''although a
physician will be present during an execution, that
physician will not supervise or participate in the injection
of any drugs or the monitoring of the prisoner's medical
condition''. The state further asserted that its current
execution procedures could be lawfully carried out without
the participation of a physician, but rather by using other
trained personnel.

Judge Stephens noted that the state's current position
differed from the position taken in previous executions, and
that the change was ''significant''. However, he further
noted that this change in execution protocol had only been
approved by the Secretary of Corrections and the Warden of
Central Prison (where death row is housed). The judge wrote:
''The court is of the opinion that the Secretary of
Corrections and the Warden may not significantly alter the
existing protocol for the manner and method of executions,
which protocol has previously received court approval as
constitutional, without first submitting such substantial
changes to the Governor and the Council of State for review
and approval.'' Without such approval, Judge Stephens
wrote, the execution would violate state law. (The Council
of State is made up of elected members of the cabinet: the
Lieutenant Governor, the Secretary of State Elaine Marshall,
the Attorney General, the Commissioner of Agriculture, the
Commissioner of Insurance, the Commissioner of Labor, the

Superintendent of Public Instruction, the State Treasurer,
and the State Auditor).

As a result of the order, James Thomas's stay of execution
is indefinite, and executions in North Carolina are
effectively on hold. This follows the recent de facto
moratoriums on executions in Florida and California while
the authorities attempt to ''fix'' their lethal injection
protocols (see USA: New Year's resolution: End a cruel and
outdated punishment, December 2006,
In six other states — Arkansas, Delaware, Maryland,
Missouri, Ohio and South Dakota — almost all executions are
being stayed by the courts in the face of lawsuits
challenging lethal injection procedures. In Illinois and New
Jersey there are formal moratoriums on executions. In New
Jersey, a study commission set up by the state legislature
has concluded that the death penalty should be abolished
(see New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission recommends
abolition, 3 January 2007, There
are also other signs that the USA is slowly turning against

capital punishment (see USA: The experiment that failed: A
reflection on 30 years of judicial killing, 16 January 2007,

There is strong public support for a moratorium on
executions in North Carolina. Approximately 1,000 faith
group congregations, businesses and community groups have
passed resolutions calling for a moratorium, including
almost 40 local governments in the state. In addition, more
than 40,000 people in North Carolina have signed the
moratorium petition.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly
as possible:
- noting the order issued by Judge Stephens;
- urging the Governor to use this opportunity to support a
full moratorium on executions in North Carolina, noting the
widespread public support for such a measure.

Governor Michael F. Easley
Governor's Office
20301 Mail Services Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-0301, USA
(via website)
Fax: 1 919 733-2120
1 919 715-3175
Salutation: Dear Governor

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