Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Ruling on Diaz death stuns attorneys for Ian Lightbourne

Execution stay lifted

Ruling on Diaz death stuns attorneys for Ian Lightbourne


OCALA - A Marion County judge ruled Monday that convicted killer Angel Diaz died a "painless and humane" death despite testimony indicating the execution didn't go smoothly.

Circuit Judge Carven Angel refuted allegations that Diaz's execution was botched and lifted a stay of execution for Ocala death row inmate Ian Lightbourne.

"Medical evidence and observations of lay witnesses do not support the allegation that the execution was 'botched, " Angel wrote in his five-page ruling. "There were irregularities which the Department of Corrections has addressed and taken appropriate action to reduce the risk of happening in the future.

"The court rejects the argument that the Diaz execution was 'botched.' Inmate Diaz died within a reasonably short time after the chemicals were injected in a manner that the court finds was painless and humane. It was never intended that the inmate should wake up and go home."

The judge's ruling came as a surprise to Lightbourne's attorney, Suzanne Keffer, of the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, who felt the judge brought up concerns in a July 22 hearing.

"It is a bit of a surprise, given it's in complete contradiction to his ruling on July 22," she said, referring to Angel's verbal order to the Department of Corrections about its execution manual.

"I find surprising his treatment of the Diaz execution," Keffer said. "[The judge] was clearly troubled . . . and to me, his ruling is a complete opposite of that."

In December, it took Diaz 34 minutes to die after a second dose of chemicals was injected into his body.

The next day, the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel filed petitions on behalf of dozens of death row inmates. The Florida Supreme Court picked the Lightbourne case to litigate the lethal injection issue.

On Dec. 15, then-Gov. Jeb Bush suspended all Florida executions pending a full review of execution policies.

Assistant State Attorney Rock Hooker said the execution didn't go as the Department of Corrections would have liked. Hooker, along with Deputy Attorney General Kenneth Nunnelley, handled the case.

"Certainly we would have liked the venous access to be full and complete .Ê.Ê. and for the drugs to go directly to his veins, heart and brain, but that didn't happen," the prosecutor said.

"One thing is for certain, inmate Diaz is dead, and even though CCRC spent tens of thousands of dollars on expert witnesses, they failed to prove that Diaz suffered any pain during the execution process, because he didn't," Hooker said.

DOC Secretary James R. McDonough released a short statement via his public affairs office regarding Monday's ruling.

"The department will perform its solemn duty as directed by the court," said Jo Ellyn Rackleff, reading from a statement.

The judge's ruling comes a month shy of a Florida Supreme Court hearing to address whether the death penalty is "cruel and unusual" and if Diaz, 55, suffered. His ruling comes just two months before the first scheduled execution since the Diaz lethal injection controversy.

In October, the high court will hear arguments from Lightbourne's attorneys and attorneys for Mark Schwab, 38.

Schwab was sentenced to death in 1992 for the kidnapping, rape and murder of an 11-year-old Cocoa boy. He is scheduled for execution on Nov. 15.

Lightbourne, 47, was sentenced to death in 1981 for the murder of Marion County horse breeder Nancy O'Farrell, the daughter of a prominent equine farm family.

Keffer has to file her initial brief to the Supreme Court by Sept. 19. On Monday she raised several concerns, including how her office feels DOC is secretive about executions. Executioners and medical personnel were not allowed to testify because of confidentiality concerns and time constraints.

"This is testimony that is extremely important to have a complete understanding of how they botched this and how it went wrong," Keffer said, later adding that DOC has denied her public records.

"I think the whole thing is based on secrecy. They don't want to turn over information. This is a procedure that needs to be kept out in the open. They're killing people. . . The defendant and the public have a right to know how this is being carried out," she said.

Hooker rejected the secrecy claims and said the executioners and medical personnel testified before a Florida Commission reviewing the death penalty earlier this year.

"It would've added nothing to what we heard, because those were people who were farther away from the inmate during the execution," Hooker said.

The Diaz execution protocols have been rewritten twice: once in May, after in-house reviews, and again in July, when Angel ordered DOC to revise portions of its protocol to include more detailed information about execution team members and their roles in administering the lethal injection.

The department has updated its manual, but CCRC argues the changes aren't enough to prevent another Diaz-like incident.

An autopsy conducted on Diaz concluded that needles pushed through his veins and chemicals were being injected in nearby soft tissue, which led to slower drug absorption rates.

Mabel Perez may be reached at mabel.perez@starbanner.com or 867-4106.

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