Thursday, July 19, 2007

Supreme Court may hear 2 lethal injection challenges together

Associated Press Writer

The Florida Supreme Court may consider an appeal of the state's first scheduled execution since a botched lethal injection at the same time it hears arguments in a separate case challenging Florida's death penalty method.

The justices Thursday set oral arguments, if requested, for Mark Dean Schwab on Oct. 11. That's when they also are set to hear an appeal from convicted killer Ian Deco Lightbourne based on problems that occurred during Florida's last execution.

It took 34 minutes - twice as long as normal - for Angel Diaz, 55, to die on Dec. 13 after an unusual second injection of the three chemicals used in the procedure. An autopsy later showed needles had been pushed through his veins into the flesh of his arms, reducing the effectiveness of the drugs.

Gov. Charlie Crist on Wednesday lifted a temporary ban on executions that had been in place since Diaz's death by signing a warrant for Schwab, 38. He had kidnapped, raped and killed 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez of Cocoa by smothering or choking the boy.

Schwab's lawyer, Mark Gruber, said he expected to file a post-conviction appeal in Brevard County. The Supreme Court also Thursday ordered that such an appeal should be completed at the trial court level by Aug. 31 so the justices would have sufficient time to consider it before Schwab's Nov. 15 execution date.

Crist said he was confident changes in lethal injection procedures adopted since the Diaz execution, including additional training, will ensure compliance with constitutional bans against cruel or unusual punishment.

Death penalty opponents disagree and are hoping Lightbourne's challenge, filed the day after the Diaz execution, will show the state's modifications are insufficient to meet constitutional requirements.

An Ocala trial judge is holding hearings in Lightbourne's case this week, but he has informed the Supreme Court he will rule by Sept. 10. That prompted the justices to schedule oral argument in that case Wednesday, just hours before Crist signed Schwab's death warrant.

Lightbourne, 47, was convicted of murdering Nancy O'Farrell in 1981 after breaking into her Marion County home.

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