Speeding up a faulty process


Published: Sunday, May 26, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 24, 2013 at 11:54 a.m.

The execution of Angel Diaz was the most horrific thing that I've ever seen.

I've witnessed a handful of executions by lethal injection as a reporter for The Sun. Most were pretty antiseptic, like watching someone being prepared for an operation from which they never wake up. Family members of victims sometimes complain that the condemned inmates appear too peaceful when they die.

Not Diaz. He winced and shuddered, looking like he was writhing in pain. His execution took 30 minutes, about twice as long as normal.

It was later discovered that a dislodged IV caused the execution drugs to slowly seep into his flesh. A medical examiner found foot-long chemical burns on both of his arms.

Simply put, Diaz was tortured.

Florida started executing inmates by lethal injection because its electric chair — known as Old Sparky — had problems such as causing flames to shoot from the heads of inmates. The botched Diaz execution lead to an inquiry by a state commission and changes to the lethal injection process.

So why hasn't Florida taken the possibility that innocent people might be executed as seriously?

Two dozen death row inmates have been exonerated in Florida since the state resumed executions in the 1970s, the highest figure in the nation. The latest exoneree was Seth Penalver, released after spending 18 years behind bars.

If the "Timely Justice Act" had been in effect, Penalver might have been killed before securing his freedom. The measure limits the appeals process in an attempt to ensure that condemned prisoners are killed within 10 years of their sentences.

The Legislature passed the legislation by a wide margin and it awaits Gov. Rick Scott's signature. Penalver himself has pushed for the governor to veto it.

Even if he does, Scott has already picked up the pace of executions. Three are scheduled for the next month. Each inmate has spent decades on death row.

John Ferguson was convicted of killing eight people in the late 1970s. He's a paranoid schizophrenic who believes he is the "Prince of God," but a federal appeals court ruled this week that he is mentally competent to be executed, the News Service of Florida reported.

William Van Poyck was convicted of killing a prison guard in 1987. His court-appointed appellate lawyer was arrested for cocaine possession, claimed insanity as a defense, disappeared from the case and let his Florida Bar membership lapse, the Palm Beach Post reported.

A court has since appointed three other attorneys to his cause, each of whom are trying to get out of representing him because they don't have the time or expertise.

So to review: Florida has botched executions by both the electric chair and lethal injection. More of its death row inmates have been exonerated than in any other state. It now plans to execute an inmate who lacks the proper legal representation and another who is out of his mind. Yet the state is taking steps to speed up executions.

You don't have to be against the death penalty to see that something is wrong here.

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