Thursday, 1 March 2007

Crist to decide on use of lethal injection drug

Crist to decide on use of lethal injection drug

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will get a slate of recommendations today on improving the state's lethal injection process, ranging from labeling lethal chemicals to making sure the inmate is unconscious during the procedure.

But the state's lethal injection commission will let him decide one major issue on his own: whether a drug banned for veterinary use in euthanizing animals should remain in the state's three-drug execution cocktail.

In a conference call Wednesday, the 11-member commission finalized recommendations for its report being issued today. Commission member Stan Morris, a Gainesville circuit court judge, said a paralytic drug used in executions could prevent observers from determining whether the inmate is unconscious.

"The reason we can't determine it in a nutshell is the administration of the second drug," he said.

Florida's execution procedure is similar to the method used in the 36 other states with lethal injection. Inmates are first injected with sodium pentothal to render them unconscious, followed by pancuronium bromide to paralyze the muscles. Potassium chloride is then injected to stop the heart.

Morris said the second drug could mask whether inmates were awake and felt the final drug burn through their veins. The American Veterinary Medical Association bans the use of the drug in animals for this reason.

The judge suggested the commission recommend asking the governor to review the drug's use.

But other members questioned whether the commission should go that far.

"It isn't our place to be reinventing the execution process," said State Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa.

Eliminating the second drug could create confusion about executions, said Harley Lappin, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The third drug could cause convulsions in the unconscious inmate, which he said could lead the witnesses to mistakenly believe the inmate is suffering.

The commission decided to recommend Crist review all the drugs used in the process.

The report has more than a dozen other recommendations. Perhaps the most significant is delaying the execution after the sedative is administered to make sure the inmate is unconscious before proceeding with the final two drugs.

Crist said the step will make sure the inmate is unconscious, even if the state continues using the paralytic drug.

"Whether they get that second drug or not really isn't going to matter," he said.

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