Sunday, 18 February 2007

Executions face new legal challenge

Executions face new legal challenge
By Estes Thompson,
Associated Press

Raleigh | Two death row inmates have filed an unusual legal challenge to North Carolina's capital punishment system, arguing state leaders approved a rule governing executions without sufficient public input.

The challenge stems from the action taken by the Council of State, a panel of the state's top elected government officials, in approving a proposed "execution protocol" that updated the state's procedures for putting an inmate to death.

The council approved the new procedure after a judge halted three executions, saying the panel must sign off on any changes to the protocol. State corrections officials had modified the protocol to change the role a doctor plays in the process after the state Medical Board threatened to punish any physician who takes part in an execution.

But attorney Hardy Lewis, who represents inmates Jerry W. Conner and James A. Campbell, said state law requires that such proposals be published in the North Carolina Register for review and be discussed at a public hearing. Only then can the council vote on approving the proposal, he said.

"We have a lot to say about this rule and a lot to say about the way the protocol was put together," Lewis said. "There are limits on what an agency can do."

Lewis said the challenge, filed through the state Office of Administrative Hearings, will be considered by an administrative law judge.

Even though the council approved the new protocol, Attorney General Roy Cooper has said he would try to negotiate a compromise with the state medical board before trying to reschedule the postponed executions.

Gov. Mike Easley has said the medical board's ruling has effectively placed a moratorium on the death penalty in North Carolina.

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