Death penalty in the USA: botched lethal injections

Lethal injection, cartoon

By Kate Randall:

Following botched Florida lethal injection

Executions on hold in two US states

18 December 2006

On Friday, executions by lethal injection were suspended in Florida following a botched execution, and a federal judge in California ruled that the state must overhaul its death penalty methods, in effect halting executions there.

These developments have focused increased scrutiny on the gruesome lethal injection procedure, which is the method of choice in 37 US states.

In the Florida case, it took 34 minutes and a rare second injection of deadly chemicals for prison authorities to execute Angel Nieves Diaz on December 13.

Death usually occurs within 15 minutes, and the individual is unconscious and motionless within 3 to 5 minutes.

In Nieves Diaz’s case, witnesses reported seeing him moving as long as 24 minutes after the initial injection, including grimacing, blinking, licking his lips, blowing and attempting to mouth words.

As lethal injection is currently practiced, the prisoner is given a deadly cocktail of three poisons: one to deaden pain, the second to induce paralysis and the third to stop the heart.

A study published last year in the British medical journal the Lancet, however, concluded that the first drug, sodium pentothal, can wear off before the inmate loses consciousness, subjecting the condemned individual to excruciating pain before the third drug, potassium chloride, causes a heart attack.

The medical examiner who performed an autopsy on Nieves Diaz following his execution, Dr. William F. Hamilton, said that it appeared that the lethal-injection needles punctured through both of his veins, sending the poisons into the small tissues of the arm, dispersing them.

“It really sounds like he was tortured to death,” commented Jonathan Groner, associate professor of surgery at the Ohio State Medical School and a death-penalty opponent, to the Associated Press.

“My impression is that it would cause an extreme amount of pain.”

Because medical professionals overwhelmingly refuse to participate in the lethal injection procedure on ethical grounds, the intravenous needles are for the most part put in place by prison personnel.

While in a hospital setting the average success rate in inserting an IV is about 1 in 6, when the difficult procedure is attempted by prison staffers trained solely for execution, the results can be disastrous, as proved in Nieves Diaz’s case.

See also here.

Exclusion of Jews and Blacks from California death penalty juries: here.

US states with most death penalties had most lynchings in the past: here.

Lynching: here.

Lethal injection drug blocked by judge. Compounding pharmacy called the Apothecary Shoppe told not to supply Missouri government with unofficial pentobarbital mix: here.

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8 thoughts on “Death penalty in the USA: botched lethal injections

  1. “Unjust, Cruel and Irrational” The United States of Punishment
    Posted by: “Compañero” chocoano05
    Sat Dec 23, 2006 12:34 pm (PST)

    December 18, 2006 COUNTERPUNCH
    “Unjust, Cruel and Irrational”
    The United States of Punishment

    2.2 million Imprisoned … “We’re Number One! USA! USA!
    USA!” … 7 million — one in every 32 American adults —
    either behind bars, on probation, or on parole … When it
    comes to sentencing, let me tell you, people, and pardon
    my language, the United States is one hell of a tough
    mother fucker … beginning with mandatory minimum
    sentences … there are tens of thousands of young men
    rotting their lives away in American prisons for simple
    possession of a drug, for their own use, for their own
    pleasure, to enjoy with a friend, no victims involved. Do
    you think a person should be in prison if he hasn’t hurt
    anyone? Either physically, financially, or in some other
    real and serious manner? Jose Antonio Lopez, a legal
    permanent resident with a family and business in South
    Dakota, was deported back to Mexico a while ago because of
    a cocaine charge — Sale? No. Use? No. Possession? No …
    He told someone where they could buy some. Another man was
    sentenced to 55 years in prison for three marijuana deals
    because he was in possession of a gun each time, which he
    did not use or brandish. Possession of a firearm in a drug
    transaction requires a much stiffer prison sentence. Four
    former attorneys-general and 145 former prosecutors and
    judges wrote in support of a lighter sentence for this
    man. The presiding judge himself called the sentence
    “unjust, cruel and irrational”, but said the law left him
    no choice.

    On December 1, a court in the Netherlands convicted four
    Dutch Muslims of plotting terrorist attacks against
    political leaders and government buildings. The heaviest
    sentence for any of them was eight years. On December 13,
    a priest was convicted of taking part in Rwanda’s 1994
    genocide by ordering militiamen to set fire to a church
    and then bulldoze it while 2,000 people seeking safety
    were huddled inside. The International Criminal Tribunal
    for Rwanda sentenced him to 15 years in prison.
    Considerably lighter sentences than in the United States
    are generally a common phenomenon in much of the world. In
    the US, the mere mention of the word “terrorist” in a
    courtroom will likely bring down 30, 40, 50 years, life in
    prison, on the defendant’s head, even for only thinking
    and talking of an action, an Orwellian “thoughtcrime”,
    with nothing concrete done to further the plan.

    Colombian drug traffickers, British Muslims, and others
    accused of “terrorist” offenses strenuously fight
    extradition to the United States for fear of Uncle Sam’s
    merciless fist. They’re the lucky ones amongst
    Washington’s foreign targets; they’re not kidnapped off
    the street and flown shackled and blindfolded to secret
    dungeons in shadowy corners of the world to be tortured.

    For those who think that no punishment is too severe, too
    cruel, in the War on Terrorism against the Bad Guys, it
    must be asked what they think of the case of the Cuban
    Five. These are five Cubans who were engaged in the United
    States in the 1990s trying to uncover information about
    anti-Castro terrorists based in Miami, some of whom
    shortly before had been carrying out a series of bombing
    attacks in Havana hotels and may have been plotting new

    The Five infiltrated Cuban-American organizations based in
    Miami to monitor their actions, and they informed the
    Cuban government of their findings. The Cuban government
    then passed on some of the information to the FBI. And
    what happened next? The FBI arrested the five Cubans.

    The Cubans were held in solitary confinement for 17
    months; eventually they were tried, and in 2001 convicted
    on a variety of charges thrown together by the government
    for the occasion, including murder (sic!) and conspiracy
    to commit espionage (probably the first case in American
    judicial history of alleged espionage without a single
    page from a single secret document). They were sentenced
    to prison terms ranging from 15 years to life. But the
    federal government’s lust for punishment was still not
    satisfied. They have made it extremely difficult for their
    Cuban prisoners to receive family visits. Two of them have
    not seen their wives and children since their arrest in
    1998; the other three have had only scarcely better luck.
    Yet another glorious chapter in the War on Terrorism.

    William Blum is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military
    and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Rogue State: a
    guide to the World’s Only Super Power. and West-Bloc
    Dissident: a Cold War Political Memoir.

    He can be reached at:


  2. Fri, 30 Sep 2005 11:58:49 -0400
    From: hapi22
    Subject: *ALL the black men in ALL the jails and prisons in America have NOT….*

    As for Bill Bennett’s statement that if all black babies were aborted,
    the crime rate would go down, we might recognize that ALL the black men
    in ALL the jails and prisons in America have NOT stolen as much money
    from the American public as the Frist family — all by itself — did.

    And ALL the black men in ALL the jails and prisons in America have NOT
    fleeced the American public out of as money as Halliburton has with its
    overcharges on their no-bid contracts in Iraq.

    And ALL the black men in ALL the jails and prisons in America have NOT
    done the American public out of as much money as Paul Bremer,
    administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, seems to have
    “lost” in Iraq — which is about $8 billion.

    Just because these rich white guys — with ties to Bush — do not use a
    gun to steal our money does NOT mean they aren’t stealing our money on a
    regular basis. They are.

    Black men go to jail for stealing a couple hundred dollars worth of
    stuff from the local 7-11, but the rich, white, well-connected guys who
    steal from us run the senate and the Pentagon, and the entire United
    States government, for that matter.

    Think about it.


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