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'State-assisted suicide in progress'

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In a cool, mechanical delivery at 2:30 a.m. on Oct. 22, Haywood County television reporter Russ Bowen described to reporters at Central Prison the final minutes of Charles Wesley Roache's life: "At 1:51 a.m. Charles Roache was wheeled on a stretcher into the execution chamber." Roache, 30, was on death row for killing Mitzi and Katie Phillips. He also admitted to participating in the murders of Earl Phillips, Cora Philips, Eddie Phillips and Chad Watt in a two-day killing spree in September 1999. Roache, who was abusing animal tranquilizers at the time of the murders, was a so-called "volunteer" for execution. He dropped appeals that would have likely given him another decade or more of life.

Upset that Roache was allowed to drop his appeals, Stephen Dear of Carrboro-based People of Faith Against the Death Penalty had a banner made especially for Roache's execution: "STATE-ASSISTED SUICIDE IN PROGRESS." The banner was held by mourners in front of the prison during a candlelight vigil the night of the execution.

As he lay on the gurney, Roache "winked and smiled" and "repeatedly said 'I love you' to his sister and fiancee," Bowen said. Roache also "bit his lip repeatedly appearing to try not to cry."

Roache's attorney, Joel Harbinson, who had known Roache since he was a child, did make people cry when he spoke during a pre-execution prayer service for Roache and his six victims held at Raleigh's Pullen Memorial Baptist Church.

Harbinson, who witnessed the execution, said Roache had "a rough life" and had dropped his appeals to "atone for his sins." Making the decision to die was "probably the one time in his life when Charles actually had some control."

"At 1:58, the warden came in and he gave the word to proceed," Bowen said. "Charles Roache began praying out loud and looking at the sky. He said, 'I'm gone. I'm gone.' His fiancee blew him a kiss. His eyes closed. He took a deep breath and stopped breathing.'"

Harbinson, who spent a lot of time with Roache in the hours before the execution, said, "I know in Charles' heart he has made peace with God." During the prayer service, someone read a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: "Through violence you may murder a murderer, but you cannot murder murder. Through violence, you may murder a liar, but you cannot establish truth. Through violence, you may murder a hater, but you cannot murder hate. Darkness cannot put out darkness. Only light can do that."

"At 2:06, he lost the color in his face," Bowen said.

In his comments, Harbinson spoke of the Gospel account in which Jesus speaks of the final judgment. In the passage, Jesus calls on his followers to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, visit the prisoner and care for the sick. "What you do for the least of me, you're doing to me," Harbinson said, quoting from Matthew 25. "Charles Roache is the least of me." x

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