Saturday, 17 February 2007

The state can't execute

The state can't execute

Palm Beach Post Editorial

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Florida pays an executioner $150. On the street, that amount wouldn't buy a very professional killing. It's no different when the state pays.

Testifying a week ago in Tampa before a special panel, the executioner who botched the Dec. 13 lethal injection of Angel Nieves Diaz said, "I have no medical training or qualifications." That would explain why needles that were supposed to go into Diaz's veins instead went into his soft tissue. The poison thus took far longer to be absorbed. The death that was supposed to take about 15 minutes took twice that time. There were chemical burns on both of Diaz's arms.

This is where people might ask, How long did it take for the topless-bar manager Diaz murdered in 1979 to die? The question is understandable but irrelevant. Like the other 37 states that allow capital punishment, Florida can't subject any condemned inmate - no matter how heinous the crime - to cruel and unusual punishment. Anything less than a quick, clinical death violates that constitutional standard.

After the Diaz execution, Gov. Bush convened this panel to examine Florida's method of lethal injection. Florida is not alone. Ten other states are reviewing their lethal injection procedures because of problems. This panel could recommend changes to the Legislature before the March session. For now, all executions are on hold.

Florida already had to start offering lethal injection after a botched electrocution in 1997. Using physicians might improve the lethal injection system, but doctors' groups don't want their members participating. The ideal - but politically unattractive, to some legislators - way out would be to end capital punishment. After all, there are 374 inmates on Death Row, and no one in Tallahassee seriously believes that all of them - or even most of them - will be executed. Also, in the 13 years since Florida has had a guaranteed sentence of life without parole, juries have been less likely to recommend a death sentence.

The panel meets again Monday, trying to determine if a man who can't testify felt pain. Maybe the members can keep a straight face.

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