[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----SOUTH DAKOTA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Jul 8 17:23:52 CDT 2007
SOUTH DAKOTA----impending execution//volunteer
Is execution plan flawed?----Vague state law could lead to problems,
A new state policy on executions lacks crucial details, raising the
specter that South Dakota could botch its 1st execution in 60 years, some
The policy, which took effect July 1, does not specify how much of each
drug should be used. Such information is important in light of what's
happened in other states, where executioners failed to put inmates
completely under with an anesthetic.
In Ohio last year, an inmate raised his head up from a gurney as chemicals
flowed into his veins during a failed attempt to put him under.
"Don't work, don't work, don't work," Joseph Clark moaned repeatedly,
according to witnesses. It took an hour and a half to execute him.
The concerns are underscored by an April 24 study by researchers at the
University of Miami's medical school. They found several problems with the
method South Dakota intends to use at this week's execution of Elijah
State officials almost killed Page last August with a drug concoction that
didn't comply with South Dakota law. The new policy and a new law were
supposed to correct the problems, but some say the changes could lead to
South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long has said the state took every
step to ensure the execution "is going to be done by the numbers, in
accordance with the law."
The public has a tendency to believe that state officials are prepared to
carry out executions in states which have the death penalty. The reality
is that many are not ready, and executioners end up improvising
procedures, said Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University in
"It is critical information, and typically when states don't provide that,
it's because they either don't have anything in writing or they do
something different for each execution, which is not proper," Denno said.
"Therefore, every execution becomes sort of a mini-experiment."
This week, Page is to be executed at the South Dakota State Penitentiary.
His lawyer, Mike Butler, said the public ought to know exactly how it will
be carried out.
"Every one of the details should be available for any interested party to
look at," Butler said, adding that, "I'm not suggesting that would change
anything regarding Mr. Page."
"When someone is in a state of mind such as Mr. Page, I'm afraid that the
details are not the difference to him," he said. "He's chosen to have his
sentence carried out. ... He wants to die."
Among the potential problems: If a prisoner isn't completely unconscious,
he will essentially suffocate to death, or feel an intense burning
sensation, "something like being put on fire," said Dr. Leonidas Koniaris,
a surgeon who co-authored the Miami study.
The researchers concluded that the 3-drug protocol used here and in many
other states is "deeply flawed."
Denno has done extensive research on the methods used to carry out
executions in the U.S. In many states, she has found that "they sort of do
it hit or miss and at the very last minute, in a really slap-dash, sloppy
sort of way."
South Dakota's policy is more vague than ones used by other states. It was
revised after Page's scheduled execution last summer was halted - hours
before it was to have happened - because of a conflict between state law
and prison policy. The law specified 2 drugs, but corrections officials
had planned to use 3.
Doctor isn't required in South Dakota
South Dakota's law also was changed during the past legislative session so
that a doctor is not required to be on hand. The lack of doctors being
involved heightens the potential for something to go wrong, Denno said.
Butler shares that concern.
"If there was something that occurred during the administration of the
first drug and it didn't do what it was intended to do for some reason,
there is no medical oversight, to my knowledge, that is provided for,"
"The problem arises because the American Medical Association has come out
and informed its membership that they should not be involved in this
process," he said.
Because of such concerns, states commonly use paramedics to carry out
executions. With no requirement that a doctor be on hand for South
Dakota's execution, the state policy calls for the county coroner to
declare Page dead after he is executed.
Such questions about ill-equipped executioners and inconsistent policies
should be cause for concern on both sides of the death penalty debate,
Denno found that 13 of 27 states in 2005 disclosed the quantities of the
drugs to be used in executions. South Dakota's new policy does not specify
this information. The state is not releasing such information ahead of
Page's execution, Department of Corrections spokesman Michael Winder said.
South Dakota's policy also:
Lacks details on the training of executioners and others involved. It
makes reference to a page from a federal appeals court ruling, but that
document doesn't offer any specifics as to training, only that personnel
should be "properly trained" to carry out the procedure.
Doesn't specify that drugs should be given according to a person's body
weight, even though that's how they are used in a clinical setting. Though
it is not mentioned in South Dakota's policy, Winder said Friday that an
inmate's weight will be taken into consideration.
Specifies the use of Sodium Pentothal (a.k.a. Sodium Thiopental), even
though an Oklahoma medical examiner who helped develop the chemical
injection process now says an anesthetic called Diprivan would work much
better. (The three drugs used in South Dakota and elsewhere haven't
changed since the process was designed in Oklahoma in 1977).
Appears to contradict itself on whether executions are considered medical
procedures. On one hand, it states that a lethal injection "is not
considered the practice of medicine in South Dakota." On the next page, it
discusses "each medical step of the lethal injection."
Does not state what to do if the inmate takes too long to die, or whether
more drugs should be injected or how that should be done.
11 states have halted chemical injections
Winder said typical problems with lethal injection have been attributed to
the improper establishment of an IV line. "Our policy requires us to use
two IV's so that there is a designated backup line," he said in an e-mail.
Nationwide, 11 states have suspended the use of chemical injections after
opponents said the methods are cruel and ineffective.
In Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush put a moratorium on all executions after the
December death of Angel Nieves Diaz, who required extra chemicals and
twice as long to die. An autopsy found that the injection needle had been
stuck through the man's vein and into his flesh.
In California, state officials unveiled a new execution plan in May after
a federal judge highlighted several flaws in the process. California's new
policy requires that inmates be monitored by electrocardiogram (South
Dakota's policy does not state whether such a device will be used); the
execution team will consist of a minimum of 20 members; and someone will
be in charge of making sure the inmate is unconscious after injection of
the 1st drug.
While the drugs used for injections have been widely criticized in many
states, the method has its supporters. The Criminal Justice Legal
Foundation, which supports the death penalty, features on its Web site an
article by a Texas state lawmaker who is also an anesthesiologist. He says
the concerns about pain and suffering are overblown.
Butler isn't sure exactly how the process will unfold this week, partly
because it's not spelled out in detail in law or state execution policy.
"I hope it's done as intended so that he doesn't suffer," he said.
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