The Florida commission appointed by former Governor Jeb Bush to examine the circumstances of a botched execution held its second meeting yesterday. The Ramifications are being felt far beyond Tampa Bay where the meeting was held. The Sarasota Herald Tribune carries an AP report, "Experts: Executioners ignored key signs in botched killing."
Executioners ignored clear signs something was wrong as they administered drugs to a convicted killer who took twice the normal time to die and had chemical burns in his arms, an expert told a panel reviewing Florida's lethal injection procedures Monday.
Dr. Denise Clark, a physician from Orlando who specializes in vein therapy, testified the executioners who reported trouble pushing a deadly chemical mix into the veins of Angel Nieves Diaz on Dec. 13 should have known their intravenous lines were not properly inserted.
"You would know right away. You would see there is a problem," Clark told the panel Monday. "It shouldn't be difficult. If it is in the proper place, it shouldn't require a lot of force."
Diaz's execution took 34 minutes -- twice as long as usual -- and required a rare second dose of lethal chemicals because the needles were incorrectly inserted through his veins and into the flesh in his arms, a medical examiner reported.
An autopsy found chemical burns in both his arms, and some experts said in interviews that Diaz probably suffered excruciating pain.
The Gainesville Sun has, "Expert says IV mistakes were made in execution."
Medical staff involved in a botched execution in December failed to adequately check an IV line for problems, according to an expert testifying Monday before a state commission on Florida's lethal injection procedures.
But testimony from members of the medical staff was delayed until another day, thanks to technical problems in disguising their voices.
The examination of the botched execution has led North Carolina legislators to request a moratorium while that state examines its execution procedures. The Star News has, "Wright joins request to suspend death penalty by Mark Schreiner."
On the eve of a historic discussion by the Council of State on the way North Carolina puts convicts to death, state Rep. Thomas Wright has joined 43 other Democratic lawmakers in asking Gov. Mike Easley to halt executions until the lethal injection method is shown to be constitutional.
Wright, D-New Hanover,was one of 14 state lawmakers who added their names Monday to a Jan. 23 letter to Easley signed by 30 legislators. No other Wilmington-area lawmaker has signed the letter, which comes at a moment when lethal injection is under review in nine states.
Today, Easley will serve as chairman of a meeting of the Council of State, which will discuss how to proceed since the N.C. Medical Society has said its physicians may not participate in executions. A judge has also stayed two executions, in part because of changes to the method with respect to a doctor's presence were not approved by the council as required by law. Three executions had been scheduled between Jan. 26 and Friday.
The Charlotte Observer carries an AP report.
On the eve of a meeting where state leaders are to consider a new execution procedure, lawmakers bickered Monday about when they should join the debate over the role a doctor plays when the state puts an inmate to death.
The meeting of the House Study Committee on Capital Punishment, formed last year to consider issues such as racial equity in jury selection and ethical behavior by lawyers in capital cases, ended with a tense exchange over questions of whether its work is a veiled effort to abolish capital punishment altogether.
Co-chair Rep. Beverly Earle, D-Mecklenburg, quelled the argument by asking members to remember their assigned mission is only to find and fix errors in the state's death penalty system.
The Observer also has an editorial, "Fix flawed system."
At least 44 members of the N.C. General Assembly, including six members of the Mecklenburg delegation, have urged the governor to suspend all executions "until we can be assured that North Carolina's method of execution clearly meets the U.S. constitutional requirement that the punishment is not cruel and unusual." It's the most rational thing to do at this point.
Suspending executions would not abolish the death penalty. It would not interfere with the courts' ability to sentence murderers to death. It would stop the rush to execute more inmates at a time when questions abound about lethal injections. The public supports the death penalty for the worst crimes but expects it to be administered fully according to the law. There is insufficient time to attempt to fix today what has taken years to break. A moratorium on executions is clearly the right choice.
The Birmingham News in Alabama has an editorial, "Needling us to action."
So how much more should executions be suspended in Alabama, where the problems with capital punishment go far beyond how the needle is inserted, what drugs are injected and at what intervals?
Here, people facing the ultimate punishment too often don't even receive adequate legal representation, much less the vigorous defense that should be required in death penalty cases. Juries can unanimously recommend a life-without-parole sentence, only to be overruled by a judge who can't afford to appear "soft on crime" as he seeks re-election. The difference between life and death often seems to come down to such arbitrary factors as race, social standing, even geography.
Yet year after year, proposals to temporarily stop executions die an agonizing death in our Legislature.
Since legislators have failed to act, Gov. Bob Riley should build on the example set by his Tennessee counterpart.
Earlier coverage of the lethal injection issue is here.