Thursday, May 10, 2007

DOC alters procedure for lethal injections

DOC alters procedure for lethal injections


Sun staff writer

Florida executions could resume within weeks under a revamped procedure that includes a bigger execution chamber and a narrator to describe the procedure to witnesses, the state Department of Corrections announced Wednesday.

Department Secretary James R. McDonough said all 37 changes proposed by a state commission on lethal injection in March are being implemented with just minor modifications. Last year's botched execution of Angel Diaz caused all executions to be halted and the commission created to investigate.

McDonough said the room where lethal chemicals are administered is being doubled in size, and executions would be able to be held there within two weeks. The execution team is now undergoing training and will receive additional training every six months, he said.

"The execution team must be fully trained and continually trained," he said.

Diaz's Dec. 13 execution lasted 34 minutes - more than twice as long as usual - and he appeared to writhe in pain during the procedure. The commission heard testimony that dislodged IVs likely caused lethal chemicals to slowly seep into Diaz's flesh before killing him.

McDonough said the changes should prevent the problems that prolonged the Diaz execution.

"The execution itself should not be long in duration," he said.

Mark Elliott, director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said there are no fundamental changes being made to the procedure. The chance for a botched execution is still there, he said.

"It's trying to fine-tune a flawed procedure," he said.

The changes include making sure the inmate is unconscious, providing closer monitoring of IV lines and clearly identifying the prison warden as the person in charge. The department also will employ a narrator to describe events in the execution "to relieve apprehension that might arise in the minds and emotions of witnesses otherwise unfamiliar with the process," according to a department report on the changes.

McDonough said the warden overseeing executions and other members of the execution team will no longer come from Florida State Prison, where executions take place. Getting a warden from another institution will prevent having anyone overseeing executions who has any interaction with the inmate, he said.

The lethal injection commission had recommended a re-evaluation of the chemicals used in executions, specifically a paralytic drug that can mask whether the inmate is awake. McDonough said the department looked at the drugs and is sticking with the three currently used.

McDonough said the changes aim to prevent problems while preparing to deal with any that arise.

"You always prepare for the unexpected," he said.

Nathan Crabbe can be reached at 352-338-3176 or crabben@gville

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