Botched Execution Demands State Scrutiny Of Lethal Injection
Published: Dec 19, 2006
It took convicted killer Angelo Diaz more than half an hour to die last week when the state executed him by lethal injection.
Although few tears will be shed for a man whose life of crime ended when he gunned down a South Florida bar manager 27 years ago, 34 minutes seems excessive, particularly since the killer expires within 15 minutes in a "normal" execution. A medical examiner said Diaz's executioners failed to properly insert intravenous needles into the killer.
Gov. Jeb Bush promised an inquiry Thursday and then suspended the death penalty in Florida on Friday.
Bush rightly set up a commission to examine the process of lethal injection. Most people think of it as a painless way to die - certainly less gruesome than the electric chair. But there is some scientific evidence - though none certain - that the three-drug cocktail administered by the state can cause extreme pain. The killer just can't say anything about it because he's paralyzed.
Witnesses of Diaz's execution said his eyes were open and his face was contorted during the procedure. He grimaced and gasped for air for many minutes.
These circumstances give opponents of capital punishment the perfect opportunity to again call for Florida to abandon the death penalty. Jonathan Groner, an Ohio surgeon who has written extensively about lethal injection, said Diaz's execution amounted to "death by torture."
His hyperbole aside, there is a widening concern about the morality of the death penalty. With lethal injection, states tried to soften the look of it, but opponents insist the death penalty is state-mandated murder in any form.
But supporters of capital punishment make rational and compelling arguments. Why would a lifer hesitate to kill a guard if it's not going to affect his punishment? Why would a robber hesitate to shoot a witness or police officer if the fear of execution were eliminated?
In addition, only a very small percentage of Florida's murderers are sentenced to death, and those have been found guilty of crimes so hideous that a prison sentence, however long, doesn't satisfy society's sense of justice.
Diaz's death needs to be investigated, but commission members should recognize that doubts about the death penalty tend to give way in the face of insanely brutal and horrific killings. At those times, the manner of execution matters less than the assurance that ruthless murderers pay the ultimate price for their crimes.