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May 30, 2014

"Photos from a Botched Lethal Injection"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable lengthy new piece by Ben Crair in The New Republic which carried the subheadline "An exclusive look at what happens when an execution goes badly." Here is how the piece starts, including its "preamble":

Warning: This article contains graphic images from the autopsy of an executed prisoner.

On December 13, 2006, the state of Florida botched the lethal injection of Angel Diaz. The execution team pushed IV catheters straight through the veins in both his arms and into the underlying tissue.  As a result, Diaz, who was convicted of murder in 1986, required two full doses of the lethal drugs, and an execution scheduled to take only ten to 15 minutes lasted 34.  It was one of the worst botches since states began using lethal injection in the 1980s, and Jeb Bush, then the governor of Florida, responded with a moratorium on executions.

Other states hardly heeded Diaz’s death at all. Since he died, states have continued to botch lethal injections: A recent study by Austin Sarat at Amherst College estimated that at least 7 percent of all lethal injections have been visibly botched. The most controversial was in Oklahoma this past April, when the state executed a convicted murderer and rapist named Clayton Lockett using a three-drug protocol, like most other death-penalty states. The execution team struggled for 51 minutes to find a vein for IV access, eventually aiming for the femoral vein deep in Lockett’s groin. Something went wrong: Oklahoma first said the vein had “blown,” then “exploded,” and eventually just “collapsed,” all of which would be unusual for the thick femoral vein if an IV had been inserted correctly. Whatever it was, the drugs saturated the surrounding tissue rather than flowing into his bloodstream. The director of corrections called off the execution, at which point the lethal injection became a life-saving operation.  But it was too late for Lockett.  Ten minutes later, and a full hour-and-forty-seven minutes after Lockett entered the death chamber, a doctor pronounced him dead.

Witnesses to the execution say Lockett writhed, clenched his teeth, and mumbled throughout the procedure.  We won’t better understand what happened until Oklahoma releases an autopsy report some time this summer.  But we do know what happened to Angel Diaz, who died under similar conditions.  While the details of his execution have been known since 2006, The New Republic is publishing for the first time photographs of the injuries Diaz sustained from the lethal injection.  I discovered the photographs in the case file of Ian Lightbourne, a Florida death-row inmate whose lawyers submitted them as evidence that lethal injection poses an unconstitutional risk of cruel and unusual punishment.

May 30, 2014 at 01:13 PM | Permalink


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Prosecute medical and veterinarian professional societies and licensing boards that will punish anyone participating in the training or carrying out of an execution. The governor may just fire any licensing board member threatening licensees for participating.

That being said, the botched executions involved a tiny fraction of the suffering laying ahead of 90% of us when death comes. The legal standard should be a reasonable death, not a perfect death. The imperfection of the executions is a false, pretextual argument by abolitionists who will never be satisfied.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 30, 2014 9:43:35 PM

Sometimes mistakes happen. It's an imperfect world.

Posted by: federalist | May 31, 2014 7:27:24 PM

What interesting timing on the release of this "notable, lengthy, new piece". It happened 8 years ago and Florida fortunately has not had another incident since this. Ohio and Oklahoma will have to modify their protocol as well.

Posted by: DaveP | Jun 1, 2014 4:59:22 PM

Not very interesting -- lethal injection protocols have been a concern for some time now, so given the time it takes to write such an article, it need not just be influenced solely by the recent botching in the news.

As the article notes, other states since the specific one highlighted here as a case study have botched things. If it won't be one state, some other state will have problems. As someone noted, "it's an imperfect world."

Posted by: Joe | Jun 3, 2014 11:54:12 AM

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