Thursday, November 1, 2007

State Court Upholds Fla. Executions

By DAVID ROYSE – 2 hours ago

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida's Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the state's lethal injection procedures are not cruel and unusual, which could clear the way for an execution scheduled for this month.

The justices wrote that "we reject the conclusion that lethal injection as applied in Florida is unconstitutional." The decision was unanimous.

Lethal injection procedures are under review by the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court has allowed only one execution to be carried out since it agreed in September to hear a case from Kentucky that raises a similar challenge.

Mark Dean Schwab, one of two inmates who have sued over the way Florida administers lethal injections to condemned prisoners, is scheduled to be executed on Nov. 15. He was convicted in the rape and murder of 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez.

"At this time, there is nothing prohibiting Schwab's execution from taking place as scheduled," said Sandi Copes, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Bill McCollum.

Schwab's attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The state Supreme Court ruled that Florida's lethal injection procedure doesn't violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, particularly since safeguards were put in place after a December execution.

In that execution, it took 34 minutes — twice as long as usual — for convicted killer Angel Diaz to die. A subsequent probe found that the execution, not the underlying procedure, was the problem: Needles had been pushed all the way through Diaz's veins, reducing the effectiveness of the drugs.

The state Department of Corrections made changes, such as improving staffing and training for executions. Death penalty opponents argue the procedures remain insufficient to prevent inmates from suffering painful deaths.

Florida's constitution defines punishment as cruel and unusual when it violates the U.S. Constitution's ban on such punishment.

Schwab argued in his appeal that the chemical procedure can cause excruciating pain, the same argument in the case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Schwab also had argued that newly discovered evidence would show he suffers from a brain impairment, a claim the state Supreme Court rejected.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections said Thursday that the agency "stands ready to go forward," with an execution if the courts don't intervene.

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