Sunday, 18 November 2007

Doctor rejected in Missouri is on federal execution team

Doctor rejected in Missouri is on federal execution team

By Jeremy Kohler and Robert Patrick

The doctor barred by a federal judge from performing executions in Missouri is part of the federal government's secret execution team at its death chamber in Indiana, according to court documents filed in a death penalty appeal.

Dr. Alan Doerhoff testified anonymously in federal court in Kansas City in June 2006 that dyslexia caused him at times to confuse numbers, give inconsistent testimony and call drugs by the wrong name.

As a result, U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. ordered a temporary halt to Missouri executions, saying he had concerns that the condemned might be subjected to unconstitutionally cruel punishment.

Doerhoff remained anonymous until the Post-Dispatch reported his name the following month and revealed that he had been sued for malpractice more than 20 times, denied staff privileges by two hospitals and reprimanded by the state Board of Healing Arts for failing to disclose the lawsuits to a hospital where he was treating patients.
The allegations that Doerhoff was involved in federal executions surfaced in a legal filing in September, amended last month, in the appeal of James Roane Jr. He was sentenced to death in February 1993 for his participation in a series of drug-related murders in Richmond, Va.

The federal government had not executed a prisoner in 38 years before June 11, 2001, when Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, was put to death by injection at the federal death chamber in Terre Haute, Ind.

Two more inmates have been executed there — Juan Raul Garza in 2001 and Louis Jones Jr. in 2003. There are 55 inmates on the federal death row.

Passages of the public version of the filing that identifies Doerhoff were blacked out, but the context left no doubt that Doerhoff is the person it credits with "development of execution procedures" and "placing and monitoring intravenous lines, monitoring levels of consciousness and making determinations of death" at Terre Haute.

It was not clear from the document which executions Doerhoff might have attended.

It also was not clear how he might have been selected for the job. The U.S. attorney general at the time the government resumed the death penalty was John Ashcroft, the former Missouri governor and senator. Doerhoff, a surgeon from the Jefferson City, testified that he'd been involved with Missouri executions since 1989.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons declined to comment Thursday. Doerhoff did not return a phone message left at his home.

The legal attack is part of a widespread effort to derail the lethal injection procedure, the primary execution method used by 37 of the 38 states with the death penalty. Critics say one of the drugs used could inflict excruciating pain masked by paralysis from another of the drugs.

The Missouri Department of Corrections responded to Gaitan's concerns by establishing written procedures for the first time and requiring that changes be approved by the director.

The new procedures call for prisoners to receive about twice the amount of the first drug, a sedative, and the next two drugs will be delayed until after unconsciousness is assured.

Missouri corrections officials successfully appealed Gaitan's requirement that an execution doctor be in good standing and trained in the administration of anesthesia.

A federal appeals court said that the Constitution does not require a "medically optimal" setting or a doctor for an execution.

The appellate ruling also said that "there was not a scintilla of evidence that any prisoner ever suffered any pain other than what was necessary to acquire access to the prisoner's circulatory system through the insertion of the needed intravenous lines" in the last six Missouri executions.

Corrections officials sent a letter to Gaitan in April saying they will no longer use Doerhoff, identified in documents as John Doe I. A spokesman later said, "We still think that John Doe I did a fine job." | 314-340-8337 | 314-621-5154

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