Friday, August 3, 2007

State revises death penalty procedures


TALLAHASSEE — The state has made a second round of changes to its lethal injection procedures since a botched execution in December after a judge questioned whether the first revisions did enough to prevent “pain or lingering death.”

A lawyer who heads a state office challenging Florida’s lethal injection method on behalf of another death row inmate said Friday that the procedure remains flawed even after the new modifications.

Florida halted executions after it took twice as long as usual — 34 minutes — for convicted killer Angel Diaz, 55, to die on Dec. 13, pending an investigation and the first revision of the procedures. An autopsy showed needles had been pushed through his veins into the flesh of his arms, reducing the effectiveness of the three fatal chemicals used in executions.

Gov. Charlie Crist lifted the moratorium last month when he signed a death warrant for Mark Dean Schwab, 38. Schwab kidnapped, raped and killed an 11-year-old boy in Brevard County on Florida’s Space Coast. His execution is set for Nov. 15.

Crist signed the warrant although the lethal injection challenge remains pending in an Ocala court. The case was filed on behalf of death row inmate Ian Deco Lightbourne a day after Diaz was executed.

Circuit Judge Carven D. Angel last month suspended hearings until the state again updated its procedures.

Department of Corrections Secretary James McDonough submitted the new version to Crist on Tuesday. He wrote to the governor that they are compatible with evolving standards of decency, concepts of dignity and advances in science.

“The process is not going to involve unnecessary lingering or the unnecessary or wanton infliction of pain and suffering,” McDonough added.

Attorney General Bill McCollum’s office forwarded the changes to Angel on Wednesday. The judge has tentatively scheduled the hearings to resume Sept. 5.

The latest modifications include additional criteria for the selection of executioners and execution teams and more specific training requirements including how to deal with the kind of situation that prolonged Diaz’s death.

They specify for the first time that certain members of the execution team must be state-certified medical professionals, which can include doctors, nurses and paramedics.

The new version also adds a sentence to the statement of purpose asserting the main objective of lethal injection is “a humane and dignified death.” Also new is a requirement to review the procedures at least once every two years.

There’s no change, though, in the cocktail of three fatal drugs.

That will remain a key objection, said Neal Dupree, who is the capital collateral regional counsel-south. His office represents Lightbourne and other death row inmates convicted in the southern third of the state.

Dupree specifically objects to the second drug that is injected, pancronium bromide. It causes paralysis that makes it impossible for an inmate to indicate whether he is in pain.

“There’s no necessity to use that drug,” he said.

It is intended to prevent muscle contortions that would result from the final drug, potassium chloride, which stops the heart from beating. The first drug is sodium pentothal, which deadens pain.

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