Thursday, September 20, 2007

State rejected execution safeguard

Before a prolonged execution last year, the Florida Department of Corrections decided against using a machine to ensure an inmate is fully unconscious before lethal chemicals are injected.

An Aug. 15, 2006 memo from department attorney Sara Dyehouse recommended the use of a bispectral index monitor in executions. The monitor can ensure a condemned inmate is unconscious and does not experience pain during the lethal injection process, she wrote in the memo.

The department rejected the advice. Four months later, Angel Diaz appeared to writhe in pain in an execution that lasted about 20 minutes longer than usual.

Department secretary Jim McDonough, in an interview this week, said the company that makes the monitor didn't want it used in executions.

"The people that make it were not inclined to sell it to us," he said.

Corrections spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said the department could have bought the monitor from another source. But that would have meant the department didn't have the company's support to properly use and repair the monitor, she said.

The department determined a person could sufficiently do the job of making sure an inmate was unconscious before lethal chemicals are administered, she said.

I witnessed the execution and saw Diaz appear to grimace, wince and shudder for at least 15 minutes. A state task force found that prison guards heard Diaz say "What's happening?" twice during the execution. The Alachua County medical examiner ruled that IVs had punctured completely through Diaz's veins in both his arms, causing chemicals to slowly build up in his tissue before killing him.

Should the department have used the monitor in the execution? Post your comments below.

-- Nate Crabbe

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