Friday, 25 May 2007
JULIE CARR SMYTH Associated Press
LUCASVILLE, Ohio - The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio called on the state to stop executions after prison staff struggled to find suitable veins on a condemned man's arm to deliver deadly chemicals used in lethal injection.
The execution team stuck Christopher Newton at least 10 times with needles Thursday to get in place the shunts where the chemicals are injected, taking so long that they once paused to allow Newton a bathroom break.
He died at 11:53 a.m., nearly two hours after the scheduled start of his execution. The process typically take about 20 minutes.
It was the longest delay since the state resumed executions in 1999 and the second time in little more than a year that prison staff had trouble inserting shunts.
"What is clear from today's botched execution is that the state doesn't know how to execute people without torturing them to death," ACLU of Ohio staff attorney Carrie Davis said.
"Having one botched execution is too many; that Ohio has now had two botched executions in as many years is intolerable."
But Newton - who had insisted on the death penalty as punishment for choking and beating cellmate Jason Brewer after arguing over a chess game - chatted and laughed with prison staff in his holding cell throughout the delay at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility.
Prison officials said the delay was due to Newton's size. The 265-pound, 6-foot inmate had previously told a public defender it was hard for blood to be taken from his veins because of his weight.
Fifty-three minutes into the process, prisons spokeswoman Andrea Dean flashed a note to reporters: "We have told the team to take their time. His size is creating a problem."
Gov. Ted Strickland said every precaution was taken to make sure Newton was treated respectfully and was not in pain.
"The procedure worked as it was intended to work," Strickland said. "If someone is against the death penalty then I can understand why they would want me to have a moratorium on the death penalty, but I think what happened today is not any supporting justification for that."
State prisons director Terry Collins said he had created more forgiving timetables for execution staff after last year's problems with the execution of Joseph Clark. He died 90 minutes after his scheduled execution time because prison staff had trouble finding a vein in the longtime-intravenous drug user's arm.
A group of Ohio inmates is suing over the state's injection method, saying it is unconstitutionally cruel. Problems with injection executions have caused delays in other states, including one in Florida that prompted Gov. Jeb Bush to suspend all executions in the state as a commission examines its lethal injection process.
The delay will be discussed as part of the inmate lawsuit and helps show the state is unable to smoothly complete executions, said Greg Meyers, chief counsel for the Public Defender's Office.
"There will be a day in trial that they will have to answer up as to what caused this two hour delay," he said. "That's a lot of time messing around trying to get a needle in a vein."
A decision was made not to intervene when the execution was delayed, Meyers said.
"You have to remember that Newton wanted to die. Our job isn't to oppose the death penalty, it's to represent our clients," he said.
When Newton eventually was moved from his holding cell and strapped to a table in the death chamber, he made this short statement: "Yes, boy, I could sure go for some beef stew and a chicken bone. That's it."
In a statement read after his death by public defender Robert Lowe at the prison, Newton apologized to the family of victim Jason Brewer.
"If I could take it back, I would. To my family, I love you and I'm sorry," he said.
Newton, who spent much of his adult life in prison, knew killing Brewer at the Mansfield Correctional Institution in 2001 was a capital crime. He refused to cooperate with investigators unless they sought the death penalty against him for the death of Brewer, 27, court documents said.
He had slammed Brewer's head onto the floor, stomped his throat and cut a piece from his orange prison suit to strangle him - then laughed as officers arrived at the cell.
Newton, who grew up in the Lake Erie town of Huron, celebrated for the one-year anniversary of Brewer's death, creating a party hat and party blowers, a prison psychiatrist testified.
Associated Press reporters Andrew Welsh-Huggins and Rachel Hoag in Columbus contributed to this story.