Execution rule change may not end conflict
By Steve Hartsoe,Associated Press
Raleigh State leaders will consider a new execution procedure next week that requires a doctor's participation, but the proposal appears to conflict with the state medical board's recent declaration that physicians who actively take part in an execution violate medical ethics.
The proposed change in the state's "execution protocol" highlights a dilemma that has effectively put executions in North Carolina on hold.
Last year, a federal judge agreed to let an execution proceed only after the state assured him a physician and a registered nurse would be present to ensure the inmate did not suffer pain as he was put to death via injection.
But last month, the North Carolina Medical Board called a doctor's participation in capital punishment "a departure from the ethics of the medical profession.
""In my view, their protocol ignores what the medical board did," said E. Hardy Lewis, a Raleigh lawyer who represents death row inmate Jerry Conner. "They have just decided to ignore it."
State law only requires a doctor be present at an executions, and that is allowed by the North Carolina Medical Board. But the board cautioned last month that a "physician who engages in any verbal or physical activity ... that facilitates the execution may be subject to disciplinary action.
"While trying to sort that conflict, the state said in a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection that a nurse and medical technician - instead of a doctor - would monitor a condemned inmates' vital signs. The state said a doctor would only observe the execution and later sign a death certificate.
That change was apparently designed to satisfy both the medical board and the demands of the federal court. But Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens, citing a law written in 1909, said the governor and the Council of State must approve such a change.
Stephens put three executions on hold until the council did so. Marcus Reymond Robinson was scheduled to die on Jan. 26, James Edward Thomas was slated to be put to death Friday, and James Adolph Campbell was to die Feb. 9. No other executions for the 164 other inmates on death row have been scheduled.
The council - comprised of the governor, lieutenant governor and the elected heads of eight state government agencies - will consider the new protocol at its regular monthly meeting Tuesday.