Doctors Vs. Executions In North Carolina

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Prisoner, Randall Pinkston
CBS

Some convicted killers in North Carolina were supposed to have been executed by now.

Marcus Robinson shot a 17-year-old boy in the face.

Archie Billings raped and murdered an 11-year-old girl.

Allen Holman gunned down his wife in a gas station parking lot. A 911 tape reveals his wife screaming, "I don't wanna die, please God, not now."

Linda Holman was murdered almost 10 years ago. Her daughter, Deborah Hartless, showed CBS News correspondent Randall Pinkston pictures of Linda.

"That was my mom," she says.

In March, Hartless thought the ordeal was finally coming to an end with her stepfather's execution.

"It's just waiting to happen and you want to go on with your life," she says.

But just two days before Holman's execution, it was abruptly cancelled because the state couldn't find a doctor to attend and assist if necessary.

"It's that thing that just hangs over," she says.

It's the one thing she wants to see done.

"Absolutely," she says. "It won't bring my mom back, but it's justice."

The execution dates of five North Carolina inmates on death row have been pushed back indefinitely because the state medical board has threatened sanctions for any physician who's present at a lethal injection.

"We don't kill patients. That's the bottom line," says Dr. Charles van der Horst of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

Van der Horst, who lobbied the medical board, says doctors don't belong in death chambers because doing so violates the physician's oath.

"We're acting as murderers on behalf of the state," he says.

That's a pretty strong description of a doctor's participation – as a murderer.

"What the state is asking the doctor to do is mix the chemicals, to get the needle into the vein properly, to judge the dose that's correct for this particular person and to make sure they're dead," he says. "That's committing murder."

Of 38 states with the death penalty, North Carolina is one of nine that have suspended executions because of problems finding doctors or after legal injections were botched.

But Wake County prosecutor Colin Willoughby says medical boards should not be able to overrule the criminal justice system.

"We, as a society, need to decide, are we going to have a death penalty or not," he says. "If we are, then the focus of that penalty shouldn't be on the personal comfort of the last 10 minutes of a convicted murderer's life."

North Carolina is suing the medical board to prohibit punishing doctors who participate in executions.

The state may have an unexpected ally. Allen Holman says he wants to die.

"I want closure, for the victim's family, my family and myself," he says.

But until the courts weigh in, Hartless, and others, will have to wait.