Saturday, September 29, 2007



Last year when the State of Florida executed Angel Diaz, it set in motion a set of events which gave most the hope that a review of a less than humane system of killing would finally take place. Now, a year later, after what seemed to be an encouraging turn of events, we are sorrowfully faced with protocols which have in essence not changed, protocols which in other states have been reason enough to halt executions. Angel Diaz's horrifically botched execution, reluctantly but unavoidably, resulted in an investigation of lethal injection procedures in Florida which for years have walked inmates to their death without review. Set against the growing tide of people against the death penalty in the US and the abominable course of events the day Mr. Diaz was murdered, the DOC was pressured into exposing a system which can only be described as a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition regarding cruel punishments. Cruel and appalling are the only two words we can use to describe the 34 minute suffering of Angel Diaz.

At this time Florida is preparing itself to proceed with it's sanctioned killing . Even after a State investigation and a public hearing, very little has changed since Mr. Diaz's execution. Governor Crist has proceeded to sign the death warrant for Mark Dean Schwab, scheduled to be executed in November, under claims by the Department of Corrections that the State's execution team has now been trained under new procedures. Nothing could be further from the truth. Experts have been quick to observe that any changes have been hastily made and fall short of the measures necessary to prevent another botched execution. Concerns about the secrecy of the DOC in conducting executions and lack of any detailed outline of the training or qualifications necessary in the execution chamber are still haunting concerns. It appears in fact that one of the few quantifiable changes to procedure is the addition of a clock in the execution chamber which witnesses within and outside the chamber can view, along with making the said chamber brighter so observers can see the procedure more clearly and take better notes. Do these changes constitute serious attempts to revise the system or is their value nothing more than cosmetic? Perhaps just an attempt to mask the fact that nothing at all will change. Neither of these so called changes address the real issue………. what is being done to ensure that the inmate is totally unconscious and not suffering unspeakable pain which he cannot communicate to those around him?

If it is at all possible to set aside the emotional issues when it comes to the death penalty and it's value as a deterrent to anything, and focus on what we are told are the logistics of this event, we see several issues immerging: issues which have not been addressed. What we are being told by the DOC is that executions will now be presided over by two new 'trained' wardens and the chief of the prison where Death Row convicts are housed. Presumably this is to improve efficiency. Yet at no point are the medical aspects of the execution taken into consideration, nor the fact that this essentially medical procedure requires the presence of medically trained personnel to assess the inmate and his level of consciousness at all times. How can a so called constitutionally valid death by lethal injection ever be performed without the presence of medical personnel and sophisticated medical equipment? This requires a clinical setting with detailed protocol in place. We are lead to believe that the level of consciousness of the condemned inmate is left to the law enforcement officer who presumably will shake the prisoner and call his name to determine the level of awareness he has. Unbelievable! Considering the effects of the paralytic drug which has been administered to him and doesn't permit him to respond while still hearing. How does this conform to the 8th amendment which forbids cruel and unusual punishment in any execution? Recently three federal judges in three very different states of the US have determined that the drug cocktail used to kill an inmate (an anesthetic, something to induce muscle paralysis and something to stop the heart) could cause excruciating pain if an inmate is not sufficiently anesthetized when one or both of the second drugs are administered.

Paralysis, respiratory failure and slow suffocation preventing breathing and thwarting the inmate from crying out surely cannot be the 'humane' ending that the DOC alludes to! In addition the 8th Amendment requires the participation of medically qualified personnel and a degree of clinical proficiency, yet the protocols guarantee nothing more than a vague assurance that the Warden will select as executioner someone who is "fully capable of performing the designated functions" . Could there be anything more vague? Last year a memo to the DOC recommended the use of a bispectral index monitor to determine the levels of consciousness required for an inmate to pass without pain; it's use was declined. Yet again the DOC falls short of it's so called 'guarantee'.

What 'humane' death are they referring to? Circuit Judge Carven Angel has decided that Angel Diaz's death was not botched, that he died within a reasonably short time after the chemicals were injected in a manner that was painless and humane. Quite an about face from his previous misgivings that the DOC procedures were laden with irregularities. If we are therefore to believe that a screaming inmate represents an inhumane death then why does the DOC find it necessary to paralyze the inmate so that he cannot cry out in pain? It is doubtful that many individuals subjected to this procedure have been anaesthetized adequately enough to ensure a level of consciousness necessary to not inflict pain and without the paralyzing agent to immobilize their screams, how many deaths would actually be seen as 'humane'? There is no provision in the so called revised protocol which eliminates the use of this paralyzing agent and no consideration given to the absolute necessity of providing indispensable equipment to monitor consciousness.

And it is cocooned within a set of unchanged practices, that Ian Lightbourne (whose case is being used to litigate the lethal injection issue) has his stay of execution lifted and Mark Schwab faces the chamber. There is no doubt that these executions will happen at the hands of a State who's only requirement is that the executioner be an adult and who's procedures are no better than before Angel Diaz was tortured. No killing can ever be 'humane' ! Even when performed under the most clinical of circumstances it represents an irreversible trauma to the body which is violent by it's very nature. Are we to believe that these minor changes are anything more than pro-forma acts after comments made by Judge Angel in the Lightbourne hearings in July? Is it enough that prison officials will take care not to move the gurney onto which a prisoner is strapped during an execution, and watch the inmate's arms for signs that a needle has been ministered? There is more than reasonable doubt about this! The state won't change the chemicals used in executions, despite medical testimony that the three-drug combination could be excruciatingly painful and secrecy shrouds procedures in several states always in an attempt to cover botched executions. Is this practice what we have to look forward to in the future? The public has a right to know how the killing is being carried out, the procedure should be clear and out in the open. The failures in protocol design, implementation, monitoring and review which in the past have led to the unnecessary suffering of at least some of those executed, have not been changed in their essence in Florida. Participation of doctors in protocol design or execution is ethically prohibited; therefore adequate anesthesia cannot be certain. What guarantee is there therefore that unnecessary cruelty and suffering can be prevented? As things are, so little of what really matters has changed and one can only wonder how many more botched executions it will take place before the killing stops.

Contact info:

Florida Support Starke
PO Box 331 Starke
Florida 32091

Florida Support
Po Box 63
Glandorf, OH
45848 USA
Dianne Abshire

Florida Support Europe
Postbox 3509 Mariero
N-4078 Stavanger

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