Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Doctor: new Fla. Execution drug risky to inmate

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Tuesday, Aug. 02, 2011

Doctor: new Fla. Execution drug risky to inmate

- AP Legal Affairs Writer
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MIAMI -- A doctor testifying for a death row inmate convicted of killing a police officer 33 years ago testified Tuesday that Florida's planned use of a replacement drug for lethal injections could cause extreme pain in executions.
Dr. David Waisel, a Boston anesthesiologist, said the drug pentobarbital commonly sold as Nembutal, hasn't been sufficiently tested to ensure an inmate is unconscious before deadly drugs are administered. States are using the replacement drug because the sole U.S. manufacturer stopped making it.
Waisel said use of pentobarbital "exposes the inmate to extraordinary risk" compared with the old drug, sodium thiopental. He said pentobarbital is most commonly used as a sedative and that its effectiveness in rendering a person unconscious is not well known.
"We're taking a drug that we know everything about, replacing it with a drug we know almost nothing about in terms of inducing anesthesia in otherwise healthy people," Waisel said. "If it did not work, they would feel the incredibly burning pain" of the lethal heart-stopping drug, potassium chloride.
Waisel testified on behalf of 61-year-old Manuel Valle, who was sentenced to death for the 1978 fatal shooting of Coral Gables Police Officer Louis Pena during a traffic stop. Valle's execution had been set for Tuesday - it would have been Florida's first using the replacement drug - but it was stayed until at least Sept. 1 to allow time for a judge to consider his challenge to the new lethal injection method.
Valle did not attend Tuesday's hearing. A medical expert for the state was scheduled to testify later in the day.
The Supreme Court gave Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jacqueline Hogan Scola until Friday afternoon to issue a ruling, which will then be reviewed by the high court.
Pentobarbital has been used in 18 executions around the country since Oklahoma first did so last year. Like sodium thiopental before it, the drug is intended to render the inmate unconscious so that no pain will be felt when two other drugs that cause death are administered.
Lawyers for Valle and other condemned prisoners have seized on the June execution in Georgia of Roy Willard Blankenship, who appeared to witnesses to grimace, jerk and mutter for several minutes after the pentobarbital was administered. Waisel said based on his interviews with witnesses at the Georgia execution, "Mr. Blankenship suffered an extremely painful execution."
Last week, a Georgia corrections officer testified in the Florida challenge that nothing seemed particularly unusual about the Blankenship execution.
Attorneys for Valle failed in an attempt to introduce an affidavit about the Blankenship case by Associated Press reporter Greg Bluestein, who witnessed the execution. The affidavit affirms that stories Bluestein wrote about Blankenship's movements during the execution accurate portrayed what he saw, but Scola ruled it inadmissible as evidence.
Follow Curt Anderson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Miamicurt

Read more: http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/2011/08/02/1680002/doctor-new-fla-execution-drug.html#ixzz1TtquHGig

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