Lawyer: Botched Executions Should Worry Death Penalty Backers

Monday, 28 Jul 2014 06:46 PM

By Sean Piccoli

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The drug combination that took almost two hours to kill a condemned murderer in Arizona last Wednesday is a product of death-penalty states scrambling to find and test new lethal-injection drugs, a physician told Newsmax TV on Monday.

"It's trial and error," Atlanta doctor Elaina George told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner and New Jersey criminal defense lawyer Greg Gianforcaro in a panel discussion of the latest botched execution to fan criticism of capital punishment.

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Witnesses said Arizona inmate Joseph Rudolph Wood gasped and snorted for an hour and 40 minutes after being injected with midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a painkiller. His attorney called the execution "bungled."

Wood is the second death-row inmate, after Dennis McGuire in Ohio, to receive that particular drug combination this year — and to take longer than the expected 10 minutes to die while making audible noises.

Corrections officials in both states said the prisoners were unconscious throughout the procedures and were not gasping for air or experiencing pain.

But those executions — and another in Oklahoma using a different drug cocktail that led to violent convulsions in the condemned prisoner, Clayton Lockett — have critics charging they violated the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Gianforcaro, the lawyer, said that even supporters of capital punishment should be concerned because with every botched execution, "all you're doing is giving the anti-death penalty people a real platform to argue that this is not humane."

Death-penalty states historically used three drugs in combination: sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium. But in 2011, the manufacturers began refusing to sell those drugs for use in executions.

"So, that's where we are now . . . trying to make something up to get the job done, and that's where the midazolam and the hydromorphone come in," said George.

The issue is what constitutes a dose that is both lethal and humane.

"These are not really drugs designed to be quick in terms of killing somebody," said George. "They're not really used for that in the first place. So, it's really all about type-treating it: changing the doses, trying to make sure you put enough in the patient — or the prisoner, I should say — to do the job. And it can be excruciating.

"Two hours is way too long for something like this," George said.

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