Thursday, 11 October 2007

Justices to hear lethal-injection challenges today

Originally published October 11, 2007

Justices to hear lethal-injection challenges today

By John A. Torres and Paul Flemming

COCOA - Convicted murderer and child rapist Mark Dean Schwab will fight for his life once more today, challenging the state's lethal injection methods before the Florida Supreme Court.

Schwab, 38, is scheduled for execution Nov. 15. His is the first death warrant signed by Gov. Charlie Crist and the first in the state since a moratorium on executions was lifted following an inquiry into the December 2006 lethal injection of Angel Diaz.

Schwab kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez of Cocoa on April 18, 1991. Just a month earlier, Schwab was released from prison after serving less than half of an eight-year sentence for raping a 13-year-old boy in Cocoa Beach.

Junny's mother said Wednesday she has waited a long time for justice to be carried out and is not going to stress about whether the execution gets delayed.

"There's nothing I can do about it, so it doesn't do any good to think about it because it stirs up memories about it," Vicki Rios-Martinez said. "I'm not going to stop living. I'm not going to let this rob me of my joy. When it happens it'll happen and we'll just have to be ready."

The Florida Supreme Court today will hear challenges to the state's lethal injection methods in cases brought by Schwab and fellow death-row inmate Ian Deco Lightbourne, a convicted murderer.

Both defendants say the state's three-drug mixture used to carry out executions is unconstitutional and they question the state's procedures and methods as revealed by December's botched execution.

It took 34 minutes for Diaz to die, more than twice the normal amount. Witnesses described Diaz gasping for breath, grimacing and his body jolting more than 25 minutes into the execution. An autopsy revealed that the needles used to deliver the deadly drugs missed his veins and instead went into tissue.

In an interview Wednesday, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum said lower court rulings in the Lightbourne case included "extensive and exhaustive findings" that the state's lethal injection procedures are acceptable.

"We feel comfortable and confident the Florida Supreme Court will find" the state's protocols constitutional, McCollum said.

In his arguments, Schwab's attorney, Mark Gruber, says lethal injection is not inherently unconstitutional, but that the way Florida goes about it is a problem.

"Lethal injection is a method of committing an inherently violent and deadly act - execution of a condemned prisoner - masquerading as a peaceful and painless medical procedure," Gruber argued in Schwab's appeal.

A further factor in Schwab's appeal is a U.S. Supreme Court stay of execution in a Kentucky death-penalty case. The federal court review will set standards for what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in lethal injection cases.

The Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to delay today's proceedings because of the federal case, but it did say it would consider holding off on ruling after oral arguments are made.

McCollum said the Kentucky case is separate, and pointed to lethal injections that have gone forward in Texas after the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the Kentucky execution. He said Florida wants to proceed lawfully, but to carry out the sentences of its courts.

"No one wants to delay due process, but the public has a due process, too," McCollum said.

The Rios-Martinez family has long been critical of a system that has made them wait more than 16 years to see the sentence carried out against their son's killer.

"It's the best criminal justice system in the world," Vicki Rios-Martinez said, "as long as you're a criminal.

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