ACLU: Who’s botching the executions?

POSTED: 11:55 a.m. EDT, June 5, 2007

A photo of Christopher Newton is displayed outside the Ohio prison where he was executed. It took 90 minutes and 10 tries

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — At Christopher Newton’s execution by lethal injection last month, it took 90 minutes and at least 10 stabs of the needle for the execution team to find a vein. The procedure was so drawn out the staff paused to allow Newton a bathroom break.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio responded with a wide-ranging request for state records, seeking, among other things, the names of the volunteer medics and guards who oversaw it. The request has drawn Ohio into a wider debate over whether executioners’ identities should be kept secret.

Death penalty opponents say Newton’s May 24 lethal injection was the latest in a series of botched executions nationwide, and that executioners’ identities and professional credentials should be open to public scrutiny.

They point to the case of Dr. Alan Doerhoff, a participant in Missouri executions who was revealed in news reports to have been sued for malpractice more than 20 times. The state is no longer using his services.

They also point to the December execution of Florida inmate Angel Diaz, who took 34 minutes — twice as long as usual — to die. Executioners administered a rare second dose of lethal chemicals to Diaz, and an autopsy found the needles had been pushed through Diaz’s veins into the flesh of his arms.

A commission created afterward to study the incident called for more training and better protocols for executioners.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes the death penalty, said the public can’t properly scrutinize the effectiveness of capital punishment without adequate information on those carrying it out.

“Public executions should be as public as possible,” he said. “They supposedly have nothing to hide, and as with anything government does, it benefits from more scrutiny. For medical personnel, yes, there may be a cost. But that’s sort of like the cost that the state, or all of us, bear.”

But death penalty advocates such as Michael Rushford, president of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento, California, accuse capital punishment opponents of wanting to expose members of execution teams to intimidate them.

“The ACLU, which has staked out its turf as severely against the death penalty, will use this opportunity to out someone involved in an execution, and use it to put these people at risk,” he said. “Unfortunately, that’s how important their cause is to them.”

Revealing the identities of doctors who take part in executions would expose them to sanctions by the American Medical Association, because it has said such doctors would be violating their oath to “first, do no harm,” Rushford said.

Exposing them would shrink the pool of willing volunteers and diminish the state’s ability to execute criminals, he said.

“They (the ACLU) were against the gas chamber 30 years ago — they said there was only one humane alternative and that would be lethal injection,” he said. “Now they’re setting up this Catch-22, saying only a doctor can do that, and knowing the doctor’s association won’t let them do it.”

Executions in North Carolina have been temporarily halted because of just such a hitch. State law had required that a doctor be present during an execution, but a federal judge said the doctor needed to actively monitor the inmate for pain. Doctors faced disciplinary action by the state medical board for doing so, however, which led to the halt.

Disputes are under way in Missouri and California over doctors’ roles in executions, and while doctors don’t currently participate in Ohio’s execution process, that could change pending a court decision.

Most of the 37 death penalty states shield execution team members’ identities. Last month, Missouri lawmakers approved a bill that would allow members of execution teams to sue anyone — including news organizations — who disclose their identities. It hasn’t been signed into law.

Dieter said he believes protecting the identity of executioners helps anesthetize the public to what takes place in the death chamber.

“There is this distance that we want with the process,” he said. “That’s why lethal injection came about, sort of to give a more medicinal, antiseptic feel to it. Now it’s backfired in that it’s not working well.”

But Rushford said executioners have a job that will naturally subject them to attacks and they deserve to be protected by government.

“The state should certainly monitor their background and training, but these people should be no more subject to ridicule than an abortion doctor who’s simply doing his job,” Rushford said.

“The law should come down hard on anyone who uses someone’s legal profession to raise harm against them. It should be a hate crime.”

Tennessee Carries Out First Execution Since Lethal Injection Review(the follow-up of my post “Convicted killer fears…”

Published: May 9, 2007

“I don’t want it to be just a visit this time” were Workman’s words regarding his 4th death row date.

NASHVILLE, May 9 — Philip R. Workman’s execution date has come and gone five times in the quarter-century since his conviction for shooting a Memphis police officer. Early Wednesday, he was finally executed at the Riverbend prison on the industrial outskirts of this city.

The execution, the first since the state reviewed and revised its lethal injection procedures, came after a flurry of appeals from Mr. Workman’s attorneys, who unsuccessfully sought stays from the U.S. Supreme Court and the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Mr. Workman’s attorneys argued in the appeals that there had not been sufficient time to review the new protocols since their release last week, and that lethal injection was unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.

In the days leading up to the execution, which was only the third in Tennessee in 47 years, it appeared that Mr. Workman might gain a delay because of the new death penalty procedures.

Last Friday, a federal judge ordered a delay and set a date for a hearing on the protocols. But an appeals court panel threw out that order Monday, and the full court refused to revisit that decision. Late Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court and the state’s top court turned down requests to stay the execution.

Mr. Workman was pronounced dead at 1:38 a.m. central time, according to Tennessee Department of Correction spokeswoman Dorinda Carter.

For the rest of the story >>>

Information source: The New York Times

Convicted killer fears his last moments (his 4th last meal)

POSTED: 5:26 p.m. EDT, May 4, 2007
By Ashley Fantz

story.workman.close.cnn.jpgNASHVILLE, Tennessee (CNN) — Philip Workman has prepared to die three times before.

Next week, the convicted killer is prepared to face execution for a fourth time, to say goodbye to his daughter again, give away his belongings, and once again eat his final meal.

And he’ll wait to see if a court will again step in before the needle pierces his skin. (Watch what Workman thinks of the procedure that will kill him Video)

Workman, 53, has spent half his life in a death row cell in Nashville’s Riverbend Prison, ever since his conviction in 1982 for killing a Memphis police officer in a botched armed robbery at a Wendy’s restaurant.

On Sunday, Tennessee prison guards will lock him in an isolated cell with a small window overlooking the prison yard, beginning three days of “Death Watch.”

He will be fitted for the drab scrubs he’ll wear May 9, when the state is set to inject him with a mixture of drugs that will kill him.

Workman said he doesn’t feel much like a person anymore. He has become a pile of legal briefs, appeals, depositions.

And he is angry, sorry, scared and depressed. (Watch how Workman has changed on Death Row Video)

Of the officer who was killed, Workman says: “Any loss of life is a tragedy.”

Too little time, too many errors

Lethal injection has become the most common method of execution in the United States. Last year, 52 of the 53 executions in the country were by injection. Of the 38 states that have the death penalty, 37 states allow lethal injection. (Death by lethal injection)

Thirty years after it was developed, the practice is drawing protest as cruel and unusual punishment, a claim supported by recent medical studies that say the mixture of chemicals used may cause a slow and excruciating death.

The debate over lethal injection has led 11 states, including Tennessee, to issue temporary bans on the process pending further study. Tennessee’s ban is set to end shortly before Workman’s scheduled execution.

“It almost makes me want to choose the electric chair,” Workman said in an interview with CNN. “They are saying in this report that a lot [of prisoners] have suffered, they wouldn’t be able to speak. You can’t move to say anything. You’re frozen.”

Saying there were “deficiencies” in Tennessee’s lethal injection instruction manual, Gov. Phil Bredesen rescinded it in February and gave the state’s commissioner of correction 90 days to write a new one.

Bredesen, who declined CNN’s request for an interview, has stayed the executions of four death row inmates, but is allowing Workman’s to proceed.

Tennessee’s rescinded manual appeared to confuse lethal injection with electrocution. For example, it called for an inmate’s head to be shaved, and for officials to have a fire extinguisher, electrode gel, an emergency generator and an electrician present. (Read the recently rescinded manual)

On April 30, the state issued a new set of lethal injection procedures, removing those protocols, but the “cocktail” of lethal drugs remains unchanged. (Read the newly proposed procedures)

Drugs are a “failure”

Lethal injection’s three-drug cocktail was proposed in 1977 by an Oklahoma medical examiner and anesthesiologist as a cheaper and more humane alternative to the electric chair. In a recent interview with CNN, Dr. Gary Chapman said the time has come to revisit the cocktail. “It may be time to change it,” he said. (Read full story)

Until 2005, it had not been scientifically researched.

In a study published in April by the Public Library of Science — a nonprofit organization of scientists and doctors — six scientists spent three years analyzing more than 50 medical examiner reports of North Carolina and California prisoners who had been injected with the short-acting anesthetic thiopental, the paralytic pancuronium bromide and the heart stopper potassium chloride. (Read the entire 2007 studyexternal link)

The study concluded the drug protocol a “failure” because the prisoners had below acceptable levels of thiopental in their systems indicating they probably suffered immense pain before they died.

“I was shocked that there had been no research on what is being used on humans, when in veterinary medicine, pancuronium is strongly discouraged,” said study author Dr. Teresa Zimmers, an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

She also participated in a 2005 medical review of 49 prisoner toxicology reports from Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina that drew similar conclusions.

Health professionals are barred from participating in executions, so prison personnel without medical expertise often perform injections.

Florida has been studying its lethal injection procedures since it took 34 minutes and two rounds of injections to kill Florida prisoner Angel Diaz in December. His executioner, a prison employee, missed his vein and witnesses described Diaz grimacing. (Read about Diaz’s executionexternal link)

A moratorium continues in California – home to America’s largest death row with 664 inmates – after a federal judge ruled in December that prison personnel are improperly trained and the execution chamber is too dark and poorly designed.

Missouri’s lethal injection administrator was revealed in 2006 to be a dyslexic surgeon who had been sued 20 times. The physician admitted he sometimes mixed drugs wrong.

No more visits

An affidavit shows a physician involved in the 2005 and 2007 studies reviewed child killer Robert Coe’s autopsy. He was lethally injected in April 2000 in Tennessee.

The doctor concluded Coe “was probably awake, suffocating in silence and felt the searing pain of injection of intravenous potassium chloride.”

Workman reads over the article about the studies as if it’s some legalese he can’t quite comprehend.

“I block it out,” he finally says.

He doesn’t want anyone to see him anymore. On May 9, his daughter and brother are to stay away, his lawyers, too. He wants people to know he’s sorry for robbing that Wendy’s and that a police officer died.

Even if he gets another stay, he says he can’t endure more of this.

Of his return to Death Watch, he remarks, “I don’t just want to visit this time.”

Information source: