Does nothing embarrass the Governor of this state anymore?
------from the NEW YORK TIMES------
PHOENIX — In an execution in 2010 in Arizona, the presiding doctor was supposed to connect the intravenous line to the convict’s arm — a procedure written into the state’s lethal injection protocol and considered by many doctors as the easiest and best way to attach a line. Instead he chose to use a vein in an upper thigh, near the groin.
“It’s my preference,” the doctor said later in a deposition, testifying anonymously because of his role as a five-time executioner. For his work, he received $5,000 to $6,000 per day — in cash — with two days for practice before each execution.
That improvisation is not unusual for Arizona, where corrections officials and medical staff members routinely deviate from the state’s written rules for conducting executions, state records and court filings show. Sometimes they improvise even while a convict is strapped to a table in the execution chamber and waiting for the drugs coursing through his veins to take effect.
In 2012, when Arizona was scheduled to execute two convicted murderers, its Corrections Department discovered at the last minute that the expiration dates for the drugs it was planning to use had passed, so it decided to switch drug methods. Last month, Arizona again deviated from its execution protocol, and things did not go as planned: The convicted murderer Joseph R. Wood III took nearly two hours to die, during which he received 13 more doses of lethal drugs than the two doses set out by the state’s rules.
While it is unclear whether the constant changes have led to cruel and unusual punishment, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit became so disturbed in 2012 about the expired drugs that it chastised the state, saying Arizona “has insisted on amending its execution protocol on an ad hoc basis.” While the court permitted the two executions to proceed and they went off without a hitch, the Ninth Circuit nonetheless observed that Arizona had a “rolling protocol that forces us to engage with serious constitutional questions and complicated factual issues in the waning hours before executions.”
Douglas A. Berman, an expert on criminal sentencing at Ohio State University, said corrections officials tended to have a cavalier attitude that might now be backfiring on them. As Mr. Berman archly put it, “What’s the big deal, as long as the guy ends up dead and I’m not literally torturing the guy along the way?” Prison officials and execution teams, he said, “don’t see any adjustment that they are making as likely to cause unnecessary suffering or pain.”
There are, however, signs that suggest otherwise. Mr. Wood, 55, gasped — seemingly for air — more than 600 times before he died on July 23; his execution is now the subject of an independent investigation commissioned by the state. In January in Oklahoma, Michael Lee Wilson, 38, said, “I feel my whole body burning” right after the drugs used in his execution — a mix meant to paralyze him, render him unconscious and stop his heart — began flowing through his veins. He died moments later.
Courts are starting to show frustration with the constant changes in the protocols themselves, some of which have been prompted by the increasing difficulty in obtaining execution drugs. On Aug. 8, a federal judge extended a moratorium on lethal injections in Ohio over concerns with a protocol change that the state had made this year.
Legal cases in Arizona, which has been a particular target of death penalty opponents, offer an unusual window on execution protocols and actual practices. There have been 37 executions in Arizona since 1992, of which 14 were overseen by the current director of the Corrections Department, Charles L. Ryan.
Mr. Ryan, who has no medical training, has said in depositions that the state’s protocol gave him virtually unlimited discretion to deviate from the written guidelines, essentially making him the ultimate arbiter in executions. He personally authorized the repeated doses of drugs given to Mr. Wood, who had murdered his estranged girlfriend and her father. Five of the 15 doses of lethal drugs were administered to Mr. Wood while his lawyers pleaded to a federal judge to stop the execution, which by then had dragged on for well over an hour.
“There’s the protocol that’s in place and there’s what happens, and those aren’t necessarily the same thing,” said Dale A. Baich, an assistant federal public defender who represented Mr. Wood. “What we’ve learned from this execution is that the Department of Corrections was making it up as it went along.”
Mr. Ryan has affirmed that the length of Mr. Wood’s execution — one hour and 57 minutes — and the amount of drugs Mr. Wood received comply with state law, which calls for the administration of “an intravenous injection of a substance or substances in a lethal quantity sufficient to cause death.” He declined a request for an interview; a spokesman, Doug Nick, said this was because of the continuing search for an independent team to assess Mr. Wood’s execution.
Logs detailing the sequence of events in the execution of Mr. Wood, as well as hundreds of pages of filings and depositions linked to five other executions in Arizona, describe a process whose rules are open to interpretation. And the rules are frequently amended, as the Ninth Circuit noted in its 2012 decision. Mr. Baich of the federal public defender’s office said that as a result of the court’s concerns, the Corrections Department had begun allowing witnesses to see through closed-circuit monitors the intravenous lines being placed on convicts during executions.
In other cases that deviated from state protocol, criminal records for members of execution teams went unchecked and a lack of qualifications was ignored, according to a 2011 filing by the federal public defender’s office. In four executions, a Corrections Department employee got to lead the medical team in charge of setting intravenous lines even though the employee could not recall inserting an IV line since the time he trained as an emergency medical technician for the military years earlier.
In the 2011 execution of Donald Beaty, convicted of killing a 13-year-old newspaper carrier in Tempe, Mr. Ryan, the corrections director, asked the medical team about replacing one of the three drugs with another. The medical team leader did so, concluding that the drugs were “essentially equivalent” based on information he read in their packages and on the Internet, according to a filing in a federal lawsuit brought by another death row inmate.
In a 2010 execution, according to the anonymous deposition by the doctor who led the medical team, Mr. Ryan asked that the extra supplies of the drugs be injected into the inmate’s body. “The director preferred that all the chemicals be given, if possible,” the doctor said. He advised against doing so, because if the patient’s heart had stopped, “the vein might rupture, and then they would just go inside the abdominal cavity,” the doctor testified. But Mr. Ryan “indicated he wanted us to try.” When injecting the drugs proved problematic, the doctor recalled, “I looked at him and I said, ‘I don’t think that this is a good idea.’ And he said, ‘O.K., that’s fine, stop.’ ”
Mr. Berman of Ohio State University said Arizona was not the only state whose loose adherence to lethal injection protocols had led to problems in the courts. After a series of problematic executions in Ohio, Judge Gregory L. Frost of United States District Court stayed the execution of a killer, Kenneth Smith, writing that the state had not stuck to its own policies in carrying out executions and was “haphazard” in its application of the process.
Judge Frost went on, “Ohio pays lip service to standards it then often ignores without valid reasons, sometimes with no physical ramification and sometimes with what have been described as messy if not botched executions.”
Dr. Jay Chapman, who devised the first lethal injection protocol in Oklahoma in 1977, has questioned the problems with executions in the years since. “It seems to me that it would not be that difficult to find people that are competent to carry out the tasks,” he said by telephone.
Fernanda Santos reported from Phoenix, and John Schwartz from New York.