Crist to decide on use of lethal injection drug
Published: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will get a slate of recommendations today on improving the state's lethal injection process, ranging from labeling lethal chemicals to making sure the inmate is unconscious during the procedure.
Lethal injection recommendations
The 11-member lethal injection commission made more than a dozen recommendations, including:
- Delay the execution after a sedative is administered to make sure the inmate is unconscious before proceeding with the final two drugs in the process.
- Clearly establish the Florida State Prison warden as the ultimate decision-maker in executions and make sure the warden can communicate with execution team members.
- Require a Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent to document what happens in the administration of lethal drugs. Add a second agent to monitor the inmate from the witness room.
- Label lethal chemicals and eliminate confusion in the labeling of IV lines and syringes.
- Medically examine the inmate one week before the execution and determine the best method to achieve IV access.
- Don't move the inmate after IV access is achieved and take other steps to make sure IV access is maintained throughout the entire execution.
- Establish closed-circuit monitoring for the execution team members to be able to see the inmate's face and IV access points.
- Improve training, including holding periodic training exercises for all execution team members in which they practice possible contingencies.
- Consider limiting appointment of execution team members who are responsible for the routine care of the condemned inmate. Outline the duties of every person in the execution room and limit the number of people in the room.
- Make sure someone who speaks the inmate's primary language is present in the execution chamber.
But the state's lethal injection commission will let him decide one major issue on his own: whether a drug banned for veterinary use in euthanizing animals should remain in the state's three-drug execution cocktail.
In a conference call Wednesday, the 11-member commission finalized recommendations for its report being issued today. Commission member Stan Morris, a Gainesville circuit court judge, said a paralytic drug used in executions could prevent observers from determining whether the inmate is unconscious.
"The reason we can't determine it in a nutshell is the administration of the second drug," he said.
Florida's execution procedure is similar to the method used in the 36 other states with lethal injection. Inmates are first injected with sodium pentothal to render them unconscious, followed by pancuronium bromide to paralyze the muscles. Potassium chloride is then injected to stop the heart.
Morris said the second drug could mask whether inmates were awake and felt the final drug burn through their veins. The American Veterinary Medical Association bans the use of the drug in animals for this reason.
The judge suggested the commission recommend asking the governor to review the drug's use.
But other members questioned whether the commission should go that far.
"It isn't our place to be reinventing the execution process," said State Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa.
Eliminating the second drug could create confusion about executions, said Harley Lappin, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The third drug could cause convulsions in the unconscious inmate, which he said could lead the witnesses to mistakenly believe the inmate is suffering.
The commission decided to recommend Crist review all the drugs used in the process.
The report has more than a dozen other recommendations. Perhaps the most significant is delaying the execution after the sedative is administered to make sure the inmate is unconscious before proceeding with the final two drugs.
Crist said the step will make sure the inmate is unconscious, even if the state continues using the paralytic drug.
"Whether they get that second drug or not really isn't going to matter," he said.
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