Saturday, May 12, 2007

Lethal-injection mix is being called cruel, slapdash, outdated


SANTA ROSA, Calif. — Thirty years ago, Oklahoma Medical Examiner Dr. A. Jay Chapman marched into the Oklahoma Statehouse and dictated the formula for a cocktail of three drugs to a lawmaker looking for a more humane way to execute the condemned.
As Chapman spoke, Rep. Bill Wiseman scribbled on a legal yellow pad. That afternoon, Wiseman introduced the bill that made Oklahoma the first state to adopt lethal injection.

Chapman's method has since been taken up by 37 states in all, the federal government and the U.S. military, and it has been used to kill 900 U.S. prisoners.

But the formula and the way it's administered are now under broad legal assault around the country as a violation of the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, with activists arguing that Chapman's protocol was hastily conceived and that some prisoners suffer excruciating pain without being able to cry out.
Chapman still sees it as a humane way to kill the worst criminals.

"Everything is political correctness, and everyone wants to be a victim today," said Chapman, 68, who lives in Santa Rosa. "All of the sudden, the person on death row is a victim. I reject that thinking, by and large, because these people made choices to do what they did."

New Calif. execution plan due

Next week, California's attorney general is due to submit the state's revised execution plan to a federal judge who ruled in December that officials improperly carried out lethal injections and may have caused inmates to suffer needlessly.
Other states are grappling with similar issues:

● On Wednesday, Tennessee lifted its brief moratorium on capital punishment and lethally injected a condemned man after prison officials revised execution guidelines that were a jumble of conflicting instructions.

● Nine other states, including California, have suspended executions while they evaluate their lethal-injection procedures, many of which have not been updated in two decades.

● A Florida execution in December required a second dose of drugs after the first was mistakenly injected into the prisoner's flesh instead of his veins.
Incompetent executioners?

A recent study in the online journal PLoS Medicine said some inmates suffer extreme pain during lethal injections because of insufficient and haphazard doses of the chemicals, including the painkiller that is the first drug in the three-part combination.

Chapman blames incompetent executioners. "This protocol will work if it's administered as it should be," he said.

Decades after he developed the protocol, defense lawyers, doctors and death-penalty foes are questioning the amount of scientific research that went into the creation of lethal injections.

Chapman said he consulted a toxicologist and two anesthesiologists. But he said it didn't actually require much research because the three chemicals — a painkiller, a muscle-paralyzing agent and a heart stopper — are well-known to physicians.

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