Thursday, 1 March 2007

Panel: Crist Should Review Death Drugs

Published Thursday, March 1, 2007

Panel: Crist Should Review Death Drugs

TAMPA - The commission examining last year's botched lethal injection execution wants Gov. Charlie Crist to consider reviewing the mix of chemicals used to kill condemned criminals, according to a draft report of the commission's findings.

The 11-member commission must hand over its review of the Dec. 13 execution of convicted killer Angel Diaz to Crist today.

Executions in Florida have been suspended until Crist reviews the panel's recommendations to ensure future ones go more smoothly.

Diaz, 55, took twice as long as normal to die and required a rare second dose of lethal chemicals. Some witnesses said he seemed to grimace and gasp as the execution dragged on for 34 minutes.

A key commission recommendation was that the execution team ensure the inmate is unconscious before two extremely painful chemicals are injected.

"Under no circumstances should the executioner continue with the second and third lethal substance without the warden's authorization," the commission report said.

The 11-page draft report does not suggest replacements for sodium pentothal, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride - the chemicals used to sedate, paralyze and kill inmates in Florida and other death-penalty states.

It says only that Crist should see "if more effective substances could or should be substituted."

The report also questioned the need for the paralytic pancuronium bromide.

Dr. Mark Heath, an anesthesiologist at Columbia University Medical Center, told the panel last month that pancuronium has the potential to leave an improperly sedated person in intense agony without the ability to show it - a key concern in the Diaz case.

Both pancuronium and potassium chloride cause intense pain when injected, doctors said.

The commission found it was not clear if Diaz was properly sedated when the painful drugs were injected into his body.

An autopsy found the needles were pushed through Diaz's veins into the flesh of his arms, possibly limiting the effectiveness of all three drugs.

The report said it is impossible to know whether Diaz felt pain.

The report called for increased training for state execution teams and a clear protocol to be created that defines the lethal injection process.

The report also suggests prison staff find a way to ensure the intravenous lines stay in place throughout the procedure.

The commission also recommended better supervision of the execution, including radio communication between the execution team and the warden, closed circuit monitoring of the inmate and an additional FDLE agent to provide an alternative account from the witness area.

A second FDLE agent would keep a detailed log of the activities of the execution team.

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