Friday, 7 September 2007

Arguments presented in case challenging Florida's execution protocols.

Lawyers debate lethal injection

Arguments presented in case challenging Florida's execution protocols.

OCALA - Despite assurances from state officials that executions are humane, defense attorneys for Ian Lightbourne argue that the existing lethal injection protocols are not sufficient to prevent another botched execution.

Their first contention is that people involved in lethal injections do not have specific medical training to ensure a humane death. Second, they argue that no one sufficiently checks whether an inmate is fully unconscious before other chemicals are injected, the way an anesthesiologist would for a patient before surgery.

Another concern: Executioners administer the drugs from a remote location; when drugs travel through lengthy intravenous tubing, malfunctions like chemical leaking or kinking are more likely.

"The most critical aspects of the lethal injection process, specifically the administration of the drugs, the assessment of consciousness and monitoring the inmate for consciousness throughout the procedure, remain unchanged and inadequate," argued lead defense attorney Suzanne Keffer of the Capital Collateral Regional Office, which represents inmates sentenced to die.

"Without an adequate medical determination of unconsciousness before the administration of drugs known to produce pain and continued monitoring of unconsciousness throughout the lethal injection procedure, there is a deliberate indifference to the risk of the infliction of unnecessary pain," she wrote.

Deputy Attorney General Kenneth Nunnelley disagreed.

"Florida's procedures more than comply with the Constitution, which requires none of the extraordinary measures espoused by Lightbourne," Nunnelley wrote in his 68-page closing argument. "The Florida procedure is more than adequate to ensure a humane execution, and contains far more redundancy and safeguards than is necessary to achieve that result."

These filings and arguments come after 13 days of hearings in Circuit Judge Carven Angel's courtroom. Forty witnesses testified about the lethal injection procedure.

Angel must rule by Monday whether lethal injection is "cruel and unusual" punishment based on Florida's current protocols and what the judge learned from the testimony.

Angel is working according to a Florida Supreme Court timeline. His order will be filed in the Ocala court file and forwarded to the Supreme Court. The high court will review transcripts of Lightbourne's Ocala hearings and, in October, hold a hearing of its own.

The hearings are the result of the botched execution of Angel Diaz in December. It took Diaz 34 minutes to die after an atypical second dose of chemicals was injected. Then-Gov. Jeb Bush suspended all Florida executions pending a full review of execution policies.

That same day, the Capital Collateral Regional Office filed petitions on behalf of dozens of death row inmates. The Florida Supreme Court picked the Lightbourne case to litigate the lethal injection issue.

Lightbourne, 47, was sentenced to death in 1981 for the murder of Marion County horse breeder Nancy O'Farrell, the daughter of a prominent horse-farming family.

Since the Diaz execution, execution protocols have been re-written twice: once in May, after in-house reviews and again in July, when Angel ordered DOC to rewrite portions of its execution protocol to include more detailed information about execution team members and their roles in administering the lethal injection.

The department has updated its manual, but CCR argues the changes aren't enough to prevent another Diaz-like incident.

The Florida Supreme Court will review the Ocala court hearing transcripts and hold its own hearing in October, a month shy of the scheduled Mark Schwab execution.

Schwab, 38, was sentenced to death in 1992 for the kidnapping, rape and murder of an 11-year-old Orlando boy.

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