Monday, 12 February 2007

Expert: Man likely felt pain during botched execution

Expert: Man likely felt pain during botched execution

posted by: Jeffrey Wolf , Web Producer

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - There are strong signs that a convicted killer felt pain during his botched execution, but there is no way to tell for sure because blood samples were taken too late, an expert told a commission reviewing Florida's execution procedures Monday.Angel Nieves Diaz, 55, was executed Dec. 13, 2006, by the lethal injection of two drugs that are normally extremely painful, and a doctor said that a sedative may not have taken hold. Death penalty opponents are carefully watching the case, and then-Gov. Jeb Bush halted executions and created the commission.

"Mr. Diaz, in my opinion, was not properly anesthetized when the pancuronium and potassium were delivered to his system," said Dr. Mark Heath, an anesthesiologist at Columbia University Medical Center who has studied lethal injection cases nationwide.

Diaz's execution took 34 minutes - twice as long as usual - and required a rare second dose of lethal chemicals because the needles were incorrectly inserted through his veins and into the flesh in his arms, a medical examiner reported. Some witnesses reported that Diaz appeared to grimace in pain as the execution dragged on, but prison employees have disputed the claim.

It is normal to wait a day before performing tests on an executed inmate, but in Diaz's case valuable data on the amount of drugs in his system were lost, Heath and another expert witness said. Human bodies can process some drugs after death.

A witness account that Diaz was gasping could signal that the drug causing painful paralysis took effect before the sedative, Heath said.

"That is a classic sign - that fish out of water look - of a person who is partially paralyzed who is struggling to gasp for breath," Heath said.

Diaz, 55, was sentenced to death for killing a Miami topless bar manager 27 years ago. He had proclaimed his innocence.

The panel's report is due to be sent to Gov. Charlie Crist by March 1.

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