updated 1/8/2004 10:50:24 PM ET 2004-01-09T03:50:24

The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way late Thursday for the execution of a North Carolina inmate, rejecting arguments that the state’s form of lethal injection amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Lawyers for Raymond Dayle Rowsey and three others on North Carolina’s death row had said the executions should be delayed at least until the Supreme Court rules this year in a separate case involving a condemned Alabama prisoner.

The justices’ 5-4 ruling came without comment, said court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg.

Rowsey, 32, was set to be executed by injection at 2 a.m. Friday for the 1992 shooting death of a convenience store clerk.

The state had asked the high court Thursday to overturn lower court rulings blocking the execution. Earlier Thursday, the 4th U.S. Circuit of Appeals ruled to uphold a stay issued Wednesday night by a lower court judge.

While the legal fight went on, officials at Central Prison in Raleigh continued preparations for Rowsey’s execution.

During the day, Rowsey visited with family and attorneys, hugging his 11-year-old daughter for the first time since he entered prison. On previous visits, he had been separated by prison bars and glass.

“He has never touched her,” said his mother, Barbara Thompson. “He lit up like a Christmas tree.”

Defense attorneys had argued that the state’s use of thiopental sodium, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride would cause the prisoners to “suffer excruciatingly painful and protracted deaths.”

“The way they are administrated may actually disable the defendant from being able to express the pain” they feel, Jim Exum Jr., one of Rowsey’s lawyers, said Thursday.

Exum said a stay had been issued only for Rowsey because execution dates for the three other inmates have not yet been set.

The state contends that arguments regarding possible problems with lethal injection ignore the massive dose actually administered and the fact that the inmate is first put to sleep.

Defense lawyers have also asked Gov. Mike Easley to commute Rowsey’s death sentence to life in prison without parole. Easley has not made a decision on that request.

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