Execution changes in effect thanks to new law

More information has come to light about the recent change to the way North Carolina performs executions.
November 6, 2013 4:00:03 PM PST
More information has come to light about the recent change to the way North Carolina performs executions.

ABC11 first reported Tuesday that the state is moving from a three drug cocktail to just one drug for lethal injections.

The news caught a lot of people off guard, and as the I-Team found out Wednesday, that's entirely because of a new law passed earlier this year.

In the past, the Council of State would have to vote on any changes to the Protocol of Executions. However, this year, Republicans passed a bill letting the head of the Department of Public Safety, which means they can modify it essentially in secret.

"Doing this all in secrecy is not good policy making," said ACLU Policy Director Sarah Preston.

Preston says she wasn't surprised changes were made to the state's execution protocol, even though basically no one knew it at the time.

The new state law gives the Secretary of Public Safety discretion to make changes unilaterally.

"I think there's an argument out there that they should be going through the regular rule making process, but even if they're not, public notice would be good, getting public notice and review would be good," said Preston.

Preston has concerns about the move to a single drug for lethal injections called pentobarbital. There are a lot of unknowns she says.

"Is this error prone? Is it error free? Is it more humane," asked Preston. "Will it cause pain to the person subjected to it?"

Experts say pentobarbital is more humane than other options. It's similar to how vets put down animals.

"It takes longer than the three drug process, but it should, if all goes well, be painless," said the Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center Richard Dieter.

Dieter says 13 states use pentobarbital. He says over the past two years it's been used in every execution in the country except one.

"I think if a state is getting ready to resume, they'd say, well let's catch up with what other states are doing, which is definitely a trend toward a single drug," said Dieter.

Wednesday, the ABC11 I-Team caught up with Gov. Pat McCrory and asked him about the change. He had little to say.

"I allow my experts to determine what's the best procedure to use and that's what they recommended," said McCrory. "So, I basically followed the lead of what the experts say needs to be done."

Tuesday, we caught up with the man responsible for the change -- Public Safety Secretary Frank Perry. He wouldn't talk about it either deferring, instead, to the governor.

The state has had a defacto moratorium on executions since 2006. Most people we've talked to think this won't have much of an effect on that

However, if and when, the execution floodgates open, there are 151 people sitting on death row here in North Carolina.

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