North Carolina could revive death penalty with single-drug executions


As first reported by the liberal-leaning NC Policy Watch website Tuesday, the North Carolina Department of Corrections is dropping its former execution method which used three drugs - sodium pentothal, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride.

In a 2007 lawsuit, four death row inmates charged the method was cruel and unusual punishment - especially if the first drug used to render the person unconscious didn't work.

The new execution method would just use a single injection of an anesthetic drug to put the person to sleep and eventually stop breathing and the heart.

» Click here to read the state's execution procedure manual. (.pdf) «

North Carolina has not executed anyone since 2006. The North Carolina Court of Appeals was to hear arguments this week in the case of the four inmates appealing the old execution method, but attorneys have asked for the case to be delayed while they examine the new plan.

North Carolina executions have also been delayed by the Racial Justice Act which allowed death row inmates to appeal their sentences if they could prove racial bias. The act was repealed by the General Assembly this summer.

Nearly all the death row cases in the state will need to be re-litigated.

ABC11 asked State Rep. Rick Glazier how he sees the change in the cocktail factoring into the big picture.

"I don't think this is going to speed up any executions. I do think there will be questions raised as there always are," said Glazier. "We were on a triple drug protocol. Now we're on a single drug protocol. What does that mean, are there any issues in other states that have moved to it, and I think all of us need to take time and read the 20 page doc that accompanies this."

ABC11 tried to ask Public Safety Secretary Frank Perry about the change, which he signed off on nearly two weeks ago. He said he needed more time to get his thoughts together on such a serious topic, and would likely defer to the Gov. Pat McCrory's office anyway.

The governor was also not taking questions on his way to another event.

ACLU-NC Policy Director Sarah Preston issued this statement on the change: "The new protocol doesn't change the fact that our death penalty is systemically broken. New methods of execution will do nothing to rein in costs, avoid lawsuits, or ensure that capital punishment is handed down fairly and impartially. The new drug in question has not been widely used, which raises questions about its effectiveness. This is quite literally a matter of life and death and there should be no room for error." 

The change in procedure is a move other states have already made.

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