Lethal Injection Is On Hold in 2 States

By Peter Whoriskey and Sonya Geis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 16, 2006

MIAMI, Dec. 15 -- Executions by lethal injection were suspended in Florida and ordered revamped in California on Friday, as the chemical method once billed as a more humane way of killing the condemned came under mounting scrutiny over the pain it may cause.

Gov. Jeb Bush (R) ordered the suspension in Florida after a botched execution in which it took 34 minutes and a second injection to kill convicted murderer Angel Nieves Diaz. A state medical examiner said that needles used to carry the poison had passed through the prisoner's veins and delivered the three-chemical mix into the tissues of his arm.

In California, a federal judge ruled that the state must overhaul its lethal-injection procedures, calling its current protocol unconstitutional because it may inflict unacceptable levels of pain.

Judge Jeremy D. Fogel of the U.S. District Court for Northern California ordered the state to revise its procedures and consider eliminating the use of two drugs: pancuronium bromide, which causes paralysis, and potassium chloride, which causes cardiac arrest.

The judge did not order executions halted, though they have been effectively on hold since February while he conducted a review.

The "pervasive lack of professionalism" in the executions, Fogel wrote, "at the least is very disturbing."

More than 30 states, including Virginia and Maryland, use the same three-drug sequence for lethal injections. Groups opposed to the death penalty have had increasing success arguing that the pain the cocktail inflicts is unconstitutional "cruel and unusual punishment."

"This demonstrates that there is no happy and kind and nice way to execute someone," said David Elliot, a spokesman for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. "Execution is a messy business."

But in Florida and California, advocates for the death penalty were quick to argue that only the technical specifics of the method are in dispute and that when the procedures are changed, the injections can begin again.

"Essentially what Judge Fogel's order today does is lay out a map for the Department of Corrections to follow in order to have a constitutionally sound lethal-injection protocol," said Nathan Barankin of the California attorney general's office.

Bush appointed a commission to review lethal-injection procedures in Florida "to ensure the method is consistent with the Eighth Amendment and its prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment," the governor said in a statement Friday.

But Bush said he saw no reason to stop using lethal injection. "All the people that are against the death penalty whenever there's a chance will call for suspending the death penalty," he said. "Each and every time that another appeal takes place, a family member of the person who was brutally murdered suffers again. So I think there needs to be sympathy for them as well."

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