No executions until manual rewritten
Bredesen: Guidelines for death sentence jumbled
An Associated Press review of the 100-page "Manual of Execution" reveals that if prison officials were to follow the lethal injection procedures by the letter, they would begin by shaving the condemned prisoner's head as if preparing him for electrocution. They also would need a fire extinguisher nearby.Gov. Phil Bredesen suspended four executions last week until the state can rewrite its procedures, calling the document a "cut-and-paste job" that needs significant revision.
The manual's minute-by-minute guidelines for lethal injections include the following instruction: "The Executioner will engage the automatic rheostat." A rheostat controls the voltage flowing to an electric chair.
The guidelines also tell the facility manager to disconnect the electrical cables in the rear of the chair before a doctor checks whether the lethal injection was successful.
The governor's reprieve came after death-row inmate Edward J. Harbison sued the state over its execution procedures in federal court in Nashville - though that legal challenge was based on an earlier version of the manual that does not include the mixed-up procedures.
His lawsuit challenges the kinds of drugs used in lethal injections, the lack of specific guidelines on how to administer them and an absence of required professional standards for the execution team.
Bredesen said the state will evaluate the three-drug cocktail as part of its overhaul of the manual.
The manual also calls for a doctor to perform a "cut-down procedure," or slicing deeply into an inmate's limb if technicians cannot insert the catheter into a vein. That procedure has been challenged in other states as cruel and unusual punishment and for violating a doctor's oath to not harm a patient.
The document does not state what should be done if an inmate's vein collapses or if the needle goes through the vein.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in December suspended all executions after Angel Nieves Diaz required a second dose of lethal chemicals and took twice as long as usual to die. The drugs were mistakenly injected into his tissue instead of his veins.
Bredesen called the Florida scenario "a governor's nightmare."
Executions also are halted in Missouri, California and North Carolina because of lethal injection concerns.
The mistakes were added last summer when Tennessee decided to update the manual after death row inmate Daryl Holton asked to be electrocuted, state Correction Commissioner George Little said.
State law allows condemned prisoners to choose either lethal injection or electrocution if they committed their crimes before 1999, when the state adopted lethal injection.
Tennessee has not electrocuted a prisoner since 1960.
Little said the mistakes came from failing to proofread the revisions.
"This is human error," Little said. "Bottom line, it's in the typing but certainly not in the carrying out of the actual executions."
State officials have said there were no problems with the two lethal injections given this decade.
Donel Campbell, who was correction commissioner under previous Gov. Don Sundquist, declined to say whether there were problems with execution protocols when the state administered its first lethal injection in 2000.
"I would rather not comment of whether there was or was not," Campbell said.
Once Tennessee's protocols have been reworked and the reprieves have expired, Bredesen said the state Supreme Court will reset execution dates for Harbison, Holton, Michael J. Boyd and Pervis T. Payne.
Harbison, Boyd and Payne have been on death row since the 1980s, while Holton was sentenced in 1999.
Bredesen, a Democrat who supports the death penalty, said Tennessee's execution teams have relied on an "oral tradition." Routine drills have ensured that lethal injections have been given properly, he said.
But the state doesn't want to risk the legal ramifications of spotty execution protocols, and Bredesen said he wants to make sure future executions aren't botched.
The governor has set a May 2 deadline for overhauling the execution protocols and said he will seek to emulate the "best practices" of other death penalty states like Virginia.
"My attitude toward (the death penalty) is that at some level, it's a necessity but an unpleasant necessity that ought to be done properly and done in a dignified fashion," he said. "And we were at risk of not doing that."