The Wild Card
It's not every day that you get to ask someone if he or she is ready to die.
That's the question I posed to death row inmate Allen Holman today. After staring off pensively for a moment at the wall in the small visitation cell and then rubbing his chin, he answered matter-of-factly "yes." Holman is the wild card in the state's current death penalty debate.
In short, North Carolina law requires a doctor to be present at executions. The North Carolina Medical Board passed a position statement saying that doctors should not participate in executions. This apparent conflict has touched off a legal firestorm which has resulted in the halting of five scheduled lethal injections including Holman's.
Lawyers for death row inmates argue that without a doctor something could go wrong and the condemned might suffer. This would violate the state constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The Department of Correction argued in its recent lawsuit against the North Carolina Medical Board that lethal injection is not a medical procedure, and therefore doctors should not be sanctioned for participating.
I'm not sure either side knows what to do with Holman. He's not on anyone's side. He has fired his attorneys, so it's clear there's no one really on his side.
Holman's argument is actually very simple. It's not about remorse. He says his narcissistic personality disorder makes him incapable of feeling badly about what's he's done.
He was convicted for the July 1997 murder of his wife, Linda Holman. Allen Holman chased his wife in his car, rammed her car from behind, and then jumped out and shot her in the parking lot of a convenience store. Holman says his desire to die is simply about closure for everyone -- the victim's family, his family, himself.
Holman believes that a doctor doesn't need to be present at an execution, just qualified medical personnel like nurses or paramedics. As to the argument that there's a chance that he might suffer, might feel pain, might go into convulsions at the time of death without proper medical oversight, Holman reaches into his past for the answer.
"I know when I was little and you cut a chicken's head off and you throw the chicken away from you, it jumps around for awhile by itself. But it doesn't mean its feeling anything," he said.
Issues surrounding the death penalty in North Carolina continue to be complex, fueled by legal roadblocks and passionate beliefs. It's not a conflict that's likely to be settled anytime soon. Who knows how throwing Holman into the mix will affect the outcome, but it no doubt adds one more log to an already fiery debate.