Saturday, 4 August 2007

State revises death penalty procedures in response to judge

State revises death penalty procedures in response to judge

Florida will train execution teams better and will require some members to be medical professionals in an attempt to avoid repeats of a botched December execution, according to documents made public Friday.

The changes are the second the state has made since it took 34 minutes - twice as long as normal - for a lethal injection to kill convicted murderer Angel Diaz, 55. An autopsy showed needles had been pushed through his veins into the flesh of his arms, reducing the effectiveness of the three chemicals used in executions.

The first round of changes included better training and communication, a clear chain of command as to who is in charge of each execution and additional staffing.

But a judge questioned whether those revisions did enough to prevent "pain or lingering death."

Circuit Judge Carven D. Angel, who is hearing a challenge to Florida's lethal injection procedures on behalf of death row inmate Ian Deco Lightbourne, last month suspended hearings until the state again updated its procedures.

The latest modifications include additional criteria for the selection of executioners and execution teams and more specific training requirements, including how to deal with the kind of situation that prolonged Diaz's death.

They specify for the first time that certain members of the execution team must be state-certified medical professionals, a category that can include doctors, nurses and paramedics.

The changes also contain language asserting that the main objective of lethal injection is "a humane and dignified death." Also new is a requirement to review the procedures at least once every two years.

Department of Corrections Secretary James McDonough submitted the new version to Gov. Charlie Crist on Tuesday. He wrote to the governor that they are compatible with evolving standards of decency, concepts of dignity and advances in science.

"The process is not going to involve unnecessary lingering or the unnecessary or wanton infliction of pain and suffering," McDonough added.

The changes were posted on the Florida Supreme Court Web site.

An investigatory panel had recommended that prison officials explore the use of newer chemicals and evaluate whether a paralytic drug should be administered as part of the fatal series of three execution drugs.

McDonough declined to make any change in the drugs in either the first or second round of modifications to the procedures. That will remain a key objection, said Neal Dupree, whose office represents death row inmates convicted in the southern third of the state.

Dupree specifically objects to the second drug that is injected, pancronium bromide. It causes paralysis that makes it impossible for inmates to indicate whether they are in pain.

"There's no necessity to use that drug," he said.

It is intended to prevent muscle contortions that would result from the final drug, potassium chloride, which stops the heart from beating. The first drug is sodium pentothal, which deadens pain.

Executions were banned in Florida after Diaz's death. Crist lifted the moratorium last month when he signed a death warrant for Mark Dean Schwab, 38. Schwab kidnapped, raped and killed an 11-year-old boy in Brevard County. Schwab's execution is set for Nov. 15.

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