Monday, 5 March 2007

LeGrande execution still in limbo

Published: March 05, 2007 08:10 am print this story email this story

LeGrande execution still in limbo

By Jay Almond, Staff Writer

Sunday, March 4, 2007 A little more than a month ago, Superior Court Judge Robert Bell extended Guy Tobias LeGrande’s stay of execution until March 5 - this coming Monday - for doctors to complete mental competency evaluations on him.

Whether the Monday deadline will hold remains to be seen due to judicial and ethical uncertainties.

With the courts on one side facing ethics and constitutional guidelines on the other, both state and federal judicial systems are grid-locked on executions.

As of Wednesday, the attorney general’s office official said they will “prepare to move forward through the legal process in accordance with our responsibility under the law.”

However, attorneys representing the North Carolina Department of Correction (DOC) and Thomas W. Mansfield, director of the N.C. Medical Board, along with the board’s staff attorney have met to discuss a resolution of the death penalty issue without litigation.

In a letter sent Wednesday from N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office, considered the submission of a declatory ruling “a critical first step to obtaining guidence from the Board on physician involvement in the execution process.”

But receiving no response was “disappointing,” it said.

The role of medical doctors - who take an oath to “do no harm” - in executions is being debated.

Under federal law, all executions must be monitored by a doctor, but the state medical board prohibits doctors’ participation.

So Gov. Mike Easley halted the state’s execution schedule and included N.C. among 11 states to delay executions.

Lethal injection, N.C.’s execution method, came under scrutiny after a flawed lethal injection in Florida.

It apparently caused the victim immeasurable pain, which anti-death penalty advocates say breaches the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

The injections, which usually contain a trio of drugs, may not eliminate extreme pain in some executions.

Anti-death penalty advocates argue condemned inmates could potentially, or may have already, suffered because they’re paralyzed during the procedure and unable to react or indicate severe pain.

A court ruling last year sought to have trained medical professionals involved in the process to help avoid such instances.

While physicians serve as witnesses or observers to injection executions in the U.S., they typically don’t directly monitor the killing process for efficiency or administration propriety.

State law requires a doctor’s presence, a rule that’s apparently been followed for years.

However, the April ruling declares executions may proceed only if a doctor actively participates in monitoring the condemned’s level of pain.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has said for more than two decades physicians who participate in executions violate medical ethics, but enforcement of that violation is the responsibility of individual state boards that issue medical licenses.

Doctors’ participation in executions would violate the Hippocratic oath, by which, doctors swear to “first do no harm.”

For that reason, the state medical board said doctors who take part in executions, even monitoring equipment used, may face disciplinary action.

Even the manufacturers of BIS vital sign monitors - producers of a machine N.C. has used during executions - presented legal documentation that the company wouldn’t have sold the equipment to the state to be used that way.

LeGrande, who was convicted in the contract killing of Ellen Munford in the early 1990s, was scheduled to die by lethal injection until Judge Bell delayed his execution, asking for further tests to determine mental compentency.

Jay Almond can be contacted by email at snaponline21@

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