The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that capital punishment does not constitute a violation of the Constitution’s ban against cruel and unusual punishment.

Don’t tell that to the friends and family members of death row inmate Bobby Lee Harris. The 34-year-old Harris came within hours of being executed on Jan. 19 before the N.C. Supreme Court upheld a last-minute stay of execution.

Already moved to Central Prison’s death watch area–a single cell located just a few yards from the execution chamber–all Harris and his supporters could do was wait and hope as defense attorneys scrambled to file last-minute appeals. In the meantime, Harris’ fiancee, Daggi Polzin, reported that nurses probed Harris’ arm with needles, as part of an execution trial run, trying to find a vein for the lethal injection.

“They hurt him so much,” Polzin said.

As Polzin and Harris’ family waited for the high court’s decision, they tried to remain hopeful. “The day before, we were all weeping, crying and desperate,” Polzin said. “We didn’t know what to think. We had the feeling that something good would happen, but we were scared.”

Harris’ defense team prevailed just 15 hours before Harris was scheduled to die. Harris got the news while he was having his first-ever contact visit with his mother, sister and brother. The stay of execution also meant an immediate end to the visit.

The case will soon be back in court, where a judge will determine whether Harris murdered John Redd on federal property while the two were on a fishing boat in waters off Onslow County. If Harris’ case is sent to federal court, he will not have to face the death penalty. In the meantime, Polzin said, she and Harris are resuming plans to be married in the Central Prison chapel.

The stay of execution also took Harris’ case out of the hands of Gov. Mike Easley–at least for the time being. Easley was asked by death penalty opponents to use his powers of executive clemency to spare Harris, who has an IQ in the low 70s–70 and below is considered mentally retarded.

Easley, who is a strong death penalty advocate, will likely be asked to step in again. Last week, the state announced execution dates for Ernest Paul McCarver (March 2) and Willie Ervin Fisher (March 9).