Monday, 28 May 2007

Ohio Execution Delay Prompts Criticism

Death penalty opponents hold hands and sing following the execution of Christopher Newton at the Southern Ohio Correction Facility in Lucasville, Ohio, Thursday, May 24, 2007. Newton was executed Thursday after a delay longer than any other since Ohio resumed executions in 1999 because of problems with the lethal injection, which he had insisted on as punishment for beating and choking a cellmate to death. (AP Photo/Scott Osborne)

Ohio Execution Delay Prompts Criticism



LUCASVILLE, Ohio -- Death penalty opponents called on the state to halt executions after prison staff struggled to find suitable veins on a condemned man's arm to deliver the lethal chemicals.

The execution team stuck Christopher Newton at least 10 times with needles Thursday to insert the shunts where the chemicals are injected.

He died at 11:53 a.m., nearly two hours after the scheduled start of his execution at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. The process typically take about 20 minutes.

"What is clear from today's botched execution is that the state doesn't know how to execute people without torturing them to death," American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio attorney Carrie Davis said Thursday.

"Having one botched execution is too many; that Ohio has now had two botched executions in as many years is intolerable."

Officials said the delay was due to Newton's size - he weighed 265 pounds. In May 2006, the execution of Joseph Lewis Clark was delayed about 90 minutes because the team could not find a suitable vein. He was a longtime intravenous drug user.

A group of Ohio inmates is suing over the state's injection method, saying it is unconstitutionally cruel, and Thursday's delay helps show that 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."

But Newton, who had had insisted on the death penalty as punishment and made no attempt to appeal, chatted and laughed with prison staff throughout the delay. It took so long that the staff paused to allow Newton a bathroom break.

Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat who took office in January, said every precaution was taken to make sure Newton was treated respectfully and was not in pain. He said he understood why death penalty opponents wanted a moratorium, but "I think what happened today is not any supporting justification for that."

He was put to death for beating and choking cellmate Jason Brewer, 27, in 2001 after they argued during a chess game. He had slammed Brewer's head onto the floor, stomped his throat and cut a piece from his orange prison suit to strangle him.

Problems with injection executions have caused delays in other states, including one in Florida last December that prompted Gov. Jeb Bush to suspend executions as a commission examines its procedures.

In a statement read by a lawyer after his death, Newton, 37, apologized to Brewer's family and his own. But the only thing Newton said in the death chamber was: "Yes, boy, I could sure go for some beef stew and a chicken bone. That's it."

A decision was made not to intervene when the execution was delayed because Newton wanted to die and "our job ... (is) to represent our clients," Meyers said.


Associated Press writers Andrew Welsh-Huggins and Rachel Hoag in Columbus contributed to this report.

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