Thursday, April 17, 2008

Last injection in Del. took longer than usual

When Brian Steckel was put to death in November 2005, it took longer than usual, which the inmate even commented on.

The News Journal

Supreme Court justices noted Wednesday in upholding Kentucky's system for lethal injections that no evidence had been shown indicating any problems on the one occasion the state used drugs to kill someone.

Delaware's last execution, by contrast, appeared to have problems.

The November 2005 execution of killer Brian Steckel took longer than usual, about 12 minutes, and at one point Steckel turned to his executioners and said, "I didn't think it would take this long."

Steckel then appeared to drift off, which is usually how a lethal injection ends according to experts, then snorted and convulsed -- something experts said the three-drug lethal injection should have prevented.

The first drug is an anesthetic, which puts the condemned to sleep, and the second induces paralysis before the third causes a fatal heart attack. A paralyzed convict would not be able to convulse as the lethal drug moves into his bloodstream, critics say.

Delaware Department of Correction officials said at the time there were no problems and that prison officials just allowed Steckel more time to talk to family viewing the execution. Steckel was sentenced to death for the 1994 murder of Sandra Long.

But at a death penalty seminar in Wilmington on Friday, Michael Wiseman, the federal defender leading a legal challenge to Delaware's death penalty procedure, said filings in the case show there was indeed a problem.

In response to a question about the Steckel execution, Wiseman said "there was some difficulty with one of the lines [intravenous tubes connected to Steckel]. The primary line failed and it took time to get the second line going."

DOC spokesman John Painter said this week that there was "no conflict" between DOC's earlier statements and the revelation from Wiseman.

"Mr. Steckel was given more time to talk with family and make his final statement. During the execution, a secondary injection site was utilized. This was in keeping with standard procedure which anticipates the potential need for use of a secondary injection site," said Painter in an e-mail.

Executions in Florida and Ohio have also had apparent problems with indications that prisoners suffered severe pain, according to advocates.

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