Saturday, 10 February 2007

Executioner admits lack of training

Executioner admits lack of training

February 10. 2007 6:01AM

AMPA — Florida's primary executioner lacks medical qualifications and last received training to administer lethal chemicals seven years ago, according to testimony Friday before the state's lethal injection commission.

"I have no medical training or qualifications," the executioner said.

The executioner administered drugs in the botched lethal injection of Angel Diaz in December. Testifying by speaker phone and using voice-disguising equipment, the executioner said nothing in the execution suggested Diaz experienced pain.

But the executioner conceded that for some of the execution, Diaz's face was turned toward the witness gallery. Witnesses have said the inmate appear to writhe in pain for much of the procedure.

Diaz's Dec. 13 execution took about 20 minutes longer than the typical execution and required a rare second round of lethal chemicals. An autopsy report, publicly released Friday, found IV lines went all the way through veins in both Diaz's arms and caused his tissues to fill with foot-long pockets of chemicals.

After Diaz's execution, then-Gov. Jeb Bush halted all executions and created the commission to investigate. Friday's hearing, the commission's third, included testimony from both the executioner and the medical professional who inserted the IV lines, who both used voice-disguising equipment to protect their identities.

The medical professional testified to having 10 years experience inserting IV lines and participating in at least five executions.

The medical professional said scarring on Diaz's arms caused problems inserting IV lines, especially into the inmate's right arm.

"It got resistance to the point it did not want to thread at all," the medical professional said.

The medical professional then made the decision to move to the upper arm to insert the IV line. Both IV lines appeared to be properly inserted at that point, so the medical professional left and went to another room for the duration of the execution, according to the testimony.

Dr. Nikolaus Gravenstein, anesthesiology department chairman in the University of Florida College of Medicine, told the commission that IV lines are typically monitored for problems throughout medical procedures.

While making the distinction that an execution isn't a medical procedure, he said the insertion of IV lines is just the start of a process in which the proper flow of drugs is checked in numerous ways.

"There are a lot of things we do," he said.

Gravenstein is one of several Gainesville-based doctors testifying before the commission. On Monday, Alachua County Medical Examiner Dr. William Hamilton is scheduled to testify on the autopsy report and UF toxicologist Dr. Bruce Goldberger about his toxicology report.

Goldberger said the report, which was also released Friday, showed Diaz had enough sedative in his blood to render him unconscious. But he said the amounts of drugs provide no indication of when Diaz was rendered unconscious and for how long.

"They wouldn't be able to do that," he said.

At Monday's meeting, the commission could also hear from the doctor who monitored Diaz's execution. The executioner testified Friday that the doctor made the decision to switch to the backup IV line when problems occurred.

A witness to the execution, Inspector Tim Westveer of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, testified he was near the executioner and doctor during the execution. He said he didn't see anything indicating Diaz experienced pain.

Westveer said he heard one of the medical professionals on the execution team say the execution was taking longer because Diaz had "a liver condition and therefore he (was) metabolizing the chemicals slower than others."

But Gravenstein and doctors on the commission said having a liver condition would have no impact on the effectiveness of the chemicals.

Friday's hearing was the first chance for members of the public to testify before the commission.

Sol Otero, Diaz's niece, said her uncle expected the execution would go badly and was told by guards he was going to suffer.

Otero said Diaz was proud and likely would have tried to hide any pain from guards.

"He would have never given them that satisfaction," she said.

Carol Weihrer of the Anesthesia Awareness Campaign told the commission about her experience having an operation during which a sedative didn't work properly.

She said the problem caused her to be awake when she was injected with the same paralytic drug used in executions.

"The sensation feels like having ignited fuel coursing through your veins," she said.

Commission member Dr. Steve Morris, project director for bioterrorism and disaster training at the University of South Florida's nursing school, said he hadn't reached any conclusions about whether Diaz experienced pain.

Diaz would be the only person who could say for sure, Morris said.

"I don't know if we'll ever know that answer," he said.

Nathan Crabbe can be reached at 352-338-3176 or

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