Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Florida Ends Temporary Halt to Executions

Gov. Charlie Crist signed his first death warrant Wednesday, ending a temporary halt on lethal injections that had been imposed after a botched execution last year.

Mark Dean Schwab, 38, is scheduled to be executed November 15, Crist said. Schwab was sentenced to death in 1992 for the kidnapping, rape and murder of 11-year-old boy. Schwab targeted the boy after seeing his picture in a newspaper. Junny Rios-Martinez was strangled or suffocated.

Last December, then-Gov. Jeb Bush suspended all Florida executions after a medical examiner determined prison officials had botched the insertion of the needles when a convicted killer was put to death. Angel Nieves Diaz's execution took 34 minutes - twice as long as usual - and required a rare second dose of lethal chemicals.

Since then, the state has adopted the recommendations of a panel to improve the state's lethal injection process. In signing the warrant, Crist said he is confident lethal injections could proceed in line with constitutional bans on cruel and unusual punishment.

The warrant was a surprise to lawyers who represent death row inmates because a lethal injection challenge based on the Diaz case has yet to be decided.

The Florida Supreme Court had put that case, filed on behalf of convicted killer Ian Deco Lightbourne, on a fast track just hours before Crist signed Schwab's warrant. The high court is scheduled to hear arguments October 11, even though a lower-court ruling in the case is still pending.

"The speculation among us was that the warrants would not be signed until after the resolution of the Lightbourne case," said Mark Gruber, one of Schwab's lawyers.

Gruber said Schwab also would challenge the lethal injection process in a post-conviction appeal.

Another of Schwab's lawyers, Kenneth Studstill, recently argued in a clemency petition that his client's life should be spared so psychologists can study him to better understand pedophiles and prevent them from raping and killing children.

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