Monday, 19 February 2007

IV lines debated in inmate's botched execution

IV lines debated in inmate's botched execution

Associated Press Writer


Intravenous lines were properly placed in the veins of each arm of Angel Nieves Diaz and were not to blame for the inmate's slower-than-usual lethal injection death in December, a medical professional who monitored the execution said Monday.

Testifying by phone before the Gov.'s Commission on Administration of Lethal Injection, the man - whose name and qualifications were not revealed because state law protects his anonymity - said the IV lines were always in place during the process and were not responsible for the difficulty pushing the fatal drugs into Diaz's system.

"At no time was there any evidence to suggest infiltration (of the veins) or compromise of the IV line," the man told the commission, which is charged with examining whether improvements can be made to the way lethal injections are administered.

The medical professional refuted doctors' claims that the IV needles had been pushed through his veins into soft tissue, delaying the flow of chemicals into his bloodstream and possibly causing pain. Asked to explain why an autopsy indicated that IV lines had passed through Diaz's veins into the soft tissue, the medical witness suggested it could have happened while Diaz's body was being moved after his death.

An investigation found that when the drugs became hard to push into the vein in Diaz's left arm, the medical team switched the drugs to the IV line in his right arm, only to finish in his left arm.

The investigation also found that the medical team violated protocol by not stopping to examine the IV site when the drugs initially became hard to push in Diaz's left arm.

Diaz's execution took 34 minutes - twice as long as usual - and required a rare second dose of lethal chemicals. Some witnesses reported Diaz appeared to grimace in pain as the execution dragged on, but prison employees inside the execution chamber have disputed the claim.

Prison officials said the slow process and the second dose was needed because Diaz had liver disease. Although prison medical records showed Diaz had hepatitis, an autopsy found that his liver appeared normal.

Florida, like many states, uses a deadly mix of chemicals that first sedate a condemned inmate, then paralyze him and finally stop his heart.

Experts who have testified before the commission said there is no way to definitely tell whether Diaz was properly sedated before the two extremely painful drugs entered his system.

Florida Department of Corrections Secretary James R. McDonough said Monday that staff members who were in the execution chamber told him Diaz never appeared to be in discomfort or pain, despite reports that the inmate looked around the chamber and twice asked what was happening.

He told the commission that he welcomes the probe and its findings.

"If there is fault to be found, we'll fix it," McDonough said. "If there are people to be replaced, we'll replace them."

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

After the botched execution, then-Gov. Jeb Bush halted executions in the state and created the commission, which will meet for the final time Saturday. Its report is due to be sent to Gov. Charlie Crist by March 1.

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