Thursday, 8 February 2007

House makes death penalty law clearer

Prison officials would have responsibility of selecting types, amounts of drugs used

By Megan Myers
Published: February 7, 2007

PIERRE - The House on Tuesday approved a measure that would allow state prison officials to choose the best available mixture of drugs for lethal injections.

HB1175, proposed by Gov. Mike Rounds, would let the warden of the state penitentiary and the secretary of corrections determine which drugs and what quantity could be given to a death-row inmate.

The bill was proposed after the execution of convicted murderer Elijah Page was postponed last summer. Rounds stayed the execution because state law calls for the use of two drugs, while the method now commonly accepted for lethal injections calls for three drugs.

Page now is scheduled to be executed in July.

"This brings us into conformity with national practice," said Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center

The House voted 51-19 to pass the measure.

Democratic Rep. Kathy Miles, who spoke against the bill, asked the House to take a slower and more cautious approach.

Nine states, including Florida, have suspended executions over worries that lethal injection might constitute "cruel and unusual" punishment. "Other states are going slowly, and we need to do the same," Miles said.

With a three-drug cocktail, a prisoner first is rendered unconscious by an anesthetic. A second drug is used to paralyze the prisoner, and the third drug is meant to stop the heart. Challenges to the method have raised concerns that the prisoner might experience excruciating pain if the anesthetic doesn't take effect quickly.

Rep. Eldon Nygaard, D-Vermillion, urged the House to vote no, pointing at a provision in the bill that says lethal injection may be carried out by a person trained in the procedure but who doesn't have to be a licensed medical professional. He said he feared an instance of a prisoner "flopping around on a table because there's someone there who doesn't know what they're doing."

Rhoden, however, said the bill was a slow and cautious move, as the guidelines have been drawn from other states that perform more executions. He cautioned the House to focus on the measure's intent.

"Anything else is rhetoric," Rhoden said.

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