Saturday, 17 November 2007

Doctor banned from Missouri executions apparently is on federal execution team

Posted on Thu, Nov. 15, 2007 10:15 PM
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Doctor banned from Missouri executions apparently is on federal execution team

A Missouri doctor continues to be a central figure in the nation’s lethal-injection debate.

Despite being barred by a federal judge from a future role in the Missouri death chamber, the Jefferson City surgeon was revealed in court documents this week as a member of the federal government’s execution team.

A new Missouri law protects his name from being revealed. Identified in court as John Doe 1 or Protected Person 2, his testimony last year in the case of a Missouri inmate has provided fodder for death penalty opponents.

“The most well-known example of a jurisdiction entrusting its execution administration to an incompetent individual is the infamous ‘Dr. Doe’ ” in Missouri,” according to a brief filed Tuesday with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of four death row inmates, including Michael Taylor in Missouri.

Doe, who designed Missouri’s lethal injection procedures and helped the state carry out more than 50 executions, testified in a suit filed by Taylor that he was dyslexic and sometimes transposed numbers.

“So it’s not unusual for me to make mistakes,” he testified.

After that hearing, a judge told the state to come up with a new lethal injection protocol and ordered that Doe “shall not participate in any manner, at any level,” in Missouri’s executions.

But attorneys for four federal death row inmates revealed recently that “the only person in the country who has been barred from participation in executions” is the person responsible for “development of execution procedures, placing and monitoring intravenous lines, monitoring levels of consciousness and making determinations of death for the federal government.”

He is not identified by name, but quotations attributed to him are identical to Doe’s testimony in Taylor’s case.

Attorneys from the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of California-Berkeley School of Law said in their Supreme Court brief filed Tuesday that Doe is the person working with the federal government.

That brief supports the case of two Kentucky inmates who are challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection procedures.

Taylor also has a pending motion for hearing before the Supreme Court.

Executions across the country have been stayed, most recently Thursday in Florida, and most observers believe that no executions are likely until the Supreme Court rules.

At issue is whether the three-drug process used by the federal government and most states amounts to cruel and unusual punishment if carried out incorrectly or administered incompetently.

The Berkeley brief highlights a “widespread lack of professionalism and competency in the administration of lethal injection in this country,” according to Ty Alper, the clinic’s associate director.

Taylor’s case was included because it has provided “so much compelling evidence” of lethal injection flaws, Alper said.

Fordham University law professor Deborah Denno, an expert on lethal injection issues, said that Doe’s own testimony revealed that he was “shockingly ill-qualified.”

“I was really appalled when I heard that they (the federal government) were considering using him, given his history,” she said.

A U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokesman cited privacy issues and declined to comment on the issue.

Doe previously had been named in news accounts, including in The Star, but Missouri lawmakers adopted a law earlier this year that granted current and former execution team members the right to seek civil damages against anyone who publicly discloses their names.

Doe did not respond to a telephone message seeking comment.

To reach Tony Rizzo, call 816-234-4435 or send e-mail to

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