Pacific Standard posts, "The Death Penalty is Experiencing Technical Difficulties." It's by Nick Welsh.
IN 1977, Oklahoma’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Jay Chapman, was approached by a member of his state legislature seeking advice on humane methods of execution. The death penalty had just been reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court after the historic four-year hiatus after which it had been held unconstitutional. That year, Utah had become the first state to execute a prisoner in the so-called modern era, when Gary Gilmore was shot to death by a firing squad of five marksmen standing behind a curtain 10 yards away. Utah’s brutally direct method provoked a wave of moral revulsion. The divide over the death penalty was still acute, as reflected in the Supreme Court’s starkly divided written opinions on reinstatement. As Chapman explained in a recent interview, his advice was sought so that Oklahoma could avoid the “national media circus” that had engulfed Utah during Gilmore’s execution.
Chapman insists it’s pretty easy, and “doesn’t take a rocket-science expert.” But even Chapman acknowledges problems. “There have been situations where someone points the needle in the vein towards the hand and not the body,” he said. “I can’t imagine anyone being that stupid.”
And that—according to Deborah Denno of Fordham Law School, one of the country’s top scholars of lethal injection, and Richard Dieter, of the Death Penalty Information Center—is the least of it. They cite the case of Missouri’s now-infamous Dr. John Doe, who presided over 54 executions. Dr. Doe, it turns out, had been the subject of 20 malpractice lawsuits and had privileges revoked by two hospitals. He was also dyslexic and frequently measured out less of the sodium-thiopental powder than the protocol called for, thus increasing the likelihood that the condemned were conscious when the other two drugs attacked.
In December 2006, Florida executioners fumbled with the vein of convicted killer Angel Diaz, sticking the needle in one side and out the other. A typical lethal-injection execution is supposed to take about 15 minutes; Diaz took 34 minutes to die. He was conscious for the first 25. Critics contended Diaz was tortured to death. Afterward, then-Governor Jeb Bush declared a moratorium on executions. In 2009, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland halted the execution of convicted killer Romell Broom after his executioners spent no less than two hours poking him 18 times. The prisoner “was helping them, he was in such pain,” said Denno. “He tried to kill himself. They even got the prison doctor in there, and they couldn’t kill him.”
Related posts are in the lethal injection index. Several relevant posts include: