Monday, 5 November 2007

Justices asked to rehear lethal injection challenge

The Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A death row inmate Monday asked the Florida Supreme Court to rehear his challenge to the state's lethal injection procedure.

The justices last week unanimously rejected arguments that the procedure is unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment. That cleared the way for the Nov. 15 execution of Mark Dean Schwab for the 1991 rape and murder of 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez in Brevard County.

Monday's rehearing request was filed on behalf of another inmate, Ian Deco Lightbourne, who has not yet been scheduled for execution. Lightbourne killed Nancy O'Farrell after breaking into her Marion County home in 1981.

Schwab and Lightbourne challenged the lethal injection procedure based on problems that caused the execution of Angel Diaz to take 34 minutes - twice as long as normal - in December.

Following Diaz's death, executions were suspended in Florida until Gov. Charlie Crist signed Schwab's death warrant in July after the Department of Corrections revised its procedures.

The state justices have not yet ruled on Schwab's motion for a stay of execution pending a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a challenge to Kentucky's lethal injection procedure. Kentucky, Florida and other states with lethal injection rely on same three-chemical cocktail.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled in appeals from Schwab and Lightbourne that the revised procedure eliminates the risk of pain from the last chemical injected, potassium chloride, which causes the heart to stop.

The revisions include additional training and a pause after the first chemical, the anesthetic sodium thiopental, is injected to make sure the inmate is unconscious before the remaining drugs are administered.

The rehearing motion argues in part that the pause is insufficient protection because prison officials rather than trained medical personnel check for consciousness. Another argument is the justices erroneously concluded that Lightbourne did not explicitly challenge the three-drug combination.

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