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Lethal injection issues crop up in US executions

September 4, 2014
Associated Press

Since Texas became the first state to use lethal injection as its execution method on Dec. 7, 1982, some problems have been reported nationwide, such as delays in finding suitable veins, needles becoming clogged or disengaged and reactions from inmates who appeared to be under stress.

Here are some examples from the past three decades:

— July 23, 2014: Joseph Rudolph Wood gasped and snorted for more than 90 minutes after his execution began in Arizona, prompting lawyers to file an emergency appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court demanding that it be stopped. Wood was pronounced dead one hour and 57 minutes after the execution started.

— April 29, 2014: Clayton Lockett's execution in Oklahoma was halted by the state's prison director after Lockett writhed and groaned on the gurney before dying 43 minutes after the drugs began to flow. Oklahoma was using a new sedative, midazolam, as part of its three-drug lethal injection procedure. An autopsy released last week showed Lockett died from the drugs, not a heart attack, which is what the state prisons director had said.

— Jan. 16, 2014: Dennis McGuire repeatedly gasped during the record 26 minutes it took him to die in Ohio's execution chamber. The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said its review determined McGuire was asleep and unconscious a few minutes after the drugs were administered and "he did not experience pain, distress or air hunger after the drugs were administered or when the bodily movements and sounds occurred."

— Sept. 15, 2009: In Ohio, inmate Romell Broom avoided execution after prison technicians were unable to find a suitable vein after trying for two hours; Broom even had helped. Broom, who remains on Ohio's death row, has complained that he was stuck with needles at least 18 times and suffered intense pain, and has sued.

— December 13, 2006: Florida inmate Angel Diaz moved, squinted and grimaced after receiving an injection, so a second dose of chemicals was administered. Florida prison officials initially blamed the issue on Diaz's liver problems, but an autopsy found his liver undamaged and that the needle had gone through Diaz's vein and out the other side — meaning the chemicals went into soft tissue and not the vein. As a result, then-Gov. Jeb Bush suspended executions in Florida.

— May 2, 2006: In Ohio, Joseph L. Clark's lethal injection was stalled for 22 minutes before prison technicians located a suitable vein. Shortly after, the vein collapsed and Clark's arm began to swell. He raised his head and said: "It don't work. It don't work." Technicians worked for 30 minutes to find another vein, and Clark wasn't pronounced dead until nearly 90 minutes after the process started.

— April 23, 1998: When there was no immediate reaction from Texas inmate Joseph Cannon after the injection process began, he had a quizzical look on his face, then blurted out: "It's come undone." A vein in Cannon's arm had collapsed and the needle popped out. Fifteen minutes later, the execution was completed.

— July 18, 1996: Indiana inmate Tommie J. Smith's lethal injection took 69 minutes when prison technicians were unable to locate suitable veins.

— May 3, 1995: Emmitt Foster's punishment in Missouri was halted seven minutes after it began when chemicals stopped. Foster gasped and convulsed. He was pronounced dead 30 minutes later. A coroner blamed the problem on leather straps that bound Foster too tightly to the execution gurney and restricted the flow of the chemicals.

— May 10, 1994: Serial killer John Wayne Gacy's execution in Illinois was interrupted as the lethal chemicals unexpectedly solidified, clogging the intravenous tube. Prison officials replaced the tube and the punishment resumed. The problem was blamed on inexperienced prison officials.

— May 7, 1992: Texas prisoner Justin Lee May had an unusually violent reaction to the lethal drugs, gasping and coughing and rearing against the leather belts that restrained him to the gurney. Amid groans, he lifted his head. His eyes and mouth were open as he died.

— December 13, 1988: Texas inmate Raymond Landry was pronounced dead 40 minutes after being strapped to the execution gurney and 24 minutes after the drugs started flowing into his arms. The needle came out spraying the chemicals toward witnesses. It was reinserted and he died. Subsequently, a plastic window was erected in the death chamber to separate the inmate from witnesses.

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Source: AP archives and Death Penalty Information Center, an advocacy group that opposes the death penalty.

 
 
 

 

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