Thursday, May 10, 2007

Death Row is lethal again


TALLAHASSEE -- Five months after Florida halted executions over questions about lethal injections, Gov. Charlie Crist said Wednesday he's ready to start signing death warrants now that the state has made changes to how it puts the condemned to death.

''I need to carry out my duty as governor,'' Crist said.

The state prisons chief, Jim McDonough, said Wednesday the state can resume executions within two weeks. McDonough has adopted numerous changes recommended by an 11-member commission assembled by former Gov. Jeb Bush after a botched execution last year.

''I'm ready so long as [McDonough] is,'' Crist said.

It took the state 34 minutes and two doses of lethal drugs to execute Angel Nieves Diaz, more than double the average time. Diaz, 55, was a violent career criminal nicknamed ''Daddy of Death'' for the 1979 murder of a Miami topless club manager.

The doctor who performed Diaz's autopsy said the needles in both of his arms punctured straight through his veins, dissipating the lethal chemicals.

The panel assembled by Bush presented its recommendations to Crist in early March. Crist then directed McDonough to review them and talk to other states and federal authorities about how they carry out executions.

McDonough said he will put in place all 37 recommendations that came from the panel, with the goal of giving inmates a humane and dignified death, making the execution process transparent, and making sure the execution does not take too long.

The state will spend $200,000 to double the size of the execution chamber and to create two separate teams to deal with the condemned inmate.

Other changes: mounting a clock in the execution room that is clearly visible to the execution team and witnesses, installing a closed-circuit monitoring system and more training for the execution team.

McDonough said the state will not change the mixture of drugs it has been using to administer the injection. Florida uses three different chemicals during the execution, including potassium chloride, which induces a heart attack.

The lethal injection commission urged the department to explore other chemicals. Some medical researchers have suggested the current mix of drugs is flawed and that inmates could feel pain before their deaths.

''We determined that the three-drug cocktail that currently is being used here, and I believe in virtually every other state, was, in fact, the protocol we're going to stick with,'' McDonough said.

Miami Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.

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