Thursday, May 10, 2007

Drug mix for executions will not change, state says

Linda Kleindienst
Tallahassee Bureau
May 10, 2007

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida will continue to use the same lethal cocktail for executions but put other protections in place to ensure the "humane and dignified" death of inmates, the state's prisons chief said Wednesday.

Corrections Secretary James McDonough outlined a series of changes designed to prevent a repeat of the botched December execution of Angel Diaz, who witnesses said appeared to be awake, in pain and gasping for air. It took two doses of lethal drugs to kill Diaz, who died in 34 minutes, or about twice the normal time.All Florida executions had been on hold while the state underwent a review of its death-penalty procedures.

McDonough said the prison system would be ready to conduct an execution in less than two weeks.McDonough's report to Gov. Charlie Crist is in response to recommendations made two months ago by a commission charged with reviewing the events surrounding the Diaz execution.

That commission, appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush, called for Florida's executioners to get better training and for a re-evaluation of the three chemicals now used.

The drugs sedate the inmate, paralyze the lungs to stop breathing and then cause a fatal heart attack. Most of the 37 states that use lethal injection use the same combination first developed in Oklahoma three decades ago.

After consulting with other states and the federal government, "The general consensus is . . . it's the appropriate mixture of drugs," McDonough said.

He said members of the execution team and the wardens who will oversee future executions already have had special training on how to determine whether an inmate has lost consciousness.

He said the department will "monitor developments in pharmacology" to determine if different drugs should be used in the future.

Meanwhile, the state will install a closed-circuit television system so that executioners can monitor the inmate's face and the placement of intravenous tubes in the inmate's arm.

An autopsy showed the chemicals given to Diaz had gone into his tissue, not his veins, because of improperly inserted intravenous needles in both arms.

One death-penalty opponent blasted McDonough's plan."It's absurd that the warden will be determining the depth of consciousness that can only be determined by a professional anesthesiologist," said Mark Elliot of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

"They really have not done much of anything as far as changes. They candy-coated a fundamentally flawed procedure."

Linda Kleindienst can be reached at or 850-224-6214.

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