Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Serial killer sues state on execution method

Serial killer sues state on execution method

Tuesday, April 08, 2008
News staff writer

Alabama's new execution procedure, which critics have blasted as a thinly veiled attempt to get around a federal moratorium on the death penalty, still amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, a Death Row inmate argues in a lawsuit against the state.

Daniel Lee Siebert, a convicted serial killer who is dying of pancreatic cancer while he awaits execution, amended a suit filed earlier to claim that Alabama's new procedure for executing the condemned violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

"The revision to the protocol is substantial, though inadequate to meet constitutional standards," the suit says.

In October, the Department of Corrections adopted changes to its execution protocol to require a corrections officer to assess the consciousness of the condemned before the administration of chemicals intended to cause paralysis and cardiac arrest.

The guard is to speak the inmate's name, pinch his arm and brush his eyelashes to determine whether a drug meant to cause unconsciousness was effective. If the inmate is judged unconscious, the execution is to continue, DOC officials have said.

In the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, Siebert argues that the guard tasked with assessing consciousness has "no medical background," making the change insufficient to assure the condemned doesn't unduly suffer.

In motions filed Monday afternoon by the state, Alabama Attorney General Troy King asked the court to dismiss the suit, saying a statute of limitations giving Siebert two years to file the action had expired. King also argued in the filing that Siebert - given separate death sentences for two murders - should not be allowed to challenge the constitutionality of the sentences separately.

"Even though Siebert was sentenced to death two times, Alabama has only one procedure by which he will be executed," King wrote in the filing.

Brian Corbett, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said Siebert's argument that the state's execution procedure amounts to cruel and unusual punishment is not new. It's the same fight being waged before the U.S. Supreme Court in the Kentucky case of Baze vs. Rees, he said.

Most states have voluntarily halted executions pending the outcome of the Kentucky case, which challenges lethal injection on the grounds that it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Federal courts have ordered stays in states that have tried to carry out executions, including Alabama. A decision is expected this summer.

Siebert also argues that complications related to his cancer would make executing him cruel and unusual punishment. It may be hard to find veins to administer the drugs, and one of the drugs believed used by the state for executions could react with his cancer drugs, causing severe pain that would be only visibly masked by an execution drug causing paralysis, he said.

Efforts to reach an attorney representing Siebert were unsuccessful Monday.

Alabama does not disclose the details of its execution procedure. But Siebert's suit, and suits brought by other Death Row inmates, indicate the state uses three drugs: Thiopental, Pavulon and potassium chloride.

Thiopental is a barbiturate believed to be administered first as an anesthetic. Pavulon, a trade name for pancuronium bromide, is believed to be administered second, to paralyze the condemned. Potassium chloride is believed used last, to cause cardiac arrest.

According to lawsuits filed by inmates, Alabama's execution procedure before the October changes was identical to the procedure used in Kentucky. Alabama changed its procedure shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would consider the Kentucky case. Anti-death-penalty activists argued that the Alabama development was an attempt to skirt the moratorium.

Siebert was convicted of five Alabama murders and has confessed to as many as 13 killings nationwide. Now 53, he was sentenced to death for the Feb. 19, 1986, strangulation killing of his girlfriend, Sherri Weathers, 24, and her two sons, 5-year-old Chad and 4-year-old Joey. Weathers was a student at the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind in Talladega.

Siebert also was sentenced to death for the murder of Linda Jarman, a resident of Weathers' apartment complex. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced separately, to life in prison, for killing Linda Faye Odum, 32, also of Talladega. Police said he strangled all five of his Alabama victims to death over a period of a few hours.

Siebert also pleaded guilty in Nevada to manslaughter, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Authorities have said he confessed to a number of other killings - the exact number is unclear - from California to New Jersey.

E-mail: sdiel@bhamnews.com

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