Friday, 30 March 2007

Doctors' identities disclosed - NC

Doctors' identities disclosed

A state law protects the identities of those involved in executions. However, prison officials and their lawyers have repeatedly said in court records and at court hearings that the doctor who is present at the execution signs the condemned inmate's death certificate. A separate state law requires the warden to send a letter verifying that the inmate was executed to the clerk of court in the county where the inmate was sentenced the death. The warden and the prison physician sign that letter.

The News & Observer was able to obtain copies of those death certificates and letters in 36 of the last 43 executions.

Dr. Obi Umesi and Dr. Paula Smith, now the prison system's chief of health services, sat down for an interview Monday at their lawyers' office. Umesi, Smith and Dr. Olushola Metiko are represented by Raleigh lawyers Robert Clay and Diane Meelheim. Those three doctors were present for at least 24 of the last 27 executions since 2001. Meelheim said Metiko was unable to attend the interview.

Another former prison doctor, Dr. Barbara Pohlman, also was interviewed. All three -- Umesi, Smith and Pohlman -- described staying in the warden's office during executions and signing the documents without seeing the inmate's dead body. Public records show Smith had execution duty at least five times from 2001 until 2002 when she says she was the director of health services at Central Prison. Her predecessor in that job, Pohlman, certified inmates' deaths in at least six executions from 1998 to 2000, records show

Asked why she stayed away from the death chamber, Pohlman said that everyone else was gathered in the warden's office. "I assumed it was established practice," she said.

Retired Drs. Rosemary Jackson of Bahama and Edwin Scott Thomas of Raleigh also were identified by public records as the doctors who signed death certificates for executed inmates. Neither returned messages or responded to requests for interviews.

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