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Execution put under microscope

By CHRIS TISCH
Published January 30, 2007


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TAMPA - Sitting six feet away, death row defense lawyer Neal Dupree said he saw Angel Diaz grimace and gasp in apparent pain during his execution.

Florida State Prison Warden Randall Bryant stood about three feet away that evening and said Diaz was merely straining to look at a clock in the execution chamber.

The conflicting testimony came Monday before a commission assembled to review the state's lethal injection procedures, spurred by irregularities in Diaz's Dec. 13 execution.

Diaz took twice as long as usual to die and an autopsy found that plastic catheters tore through his veins, splashing chemicals into his flesh that caused foot-long burns. Because state and federal law prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, whether Diaz felt pain is crucial to the commission's study.

If Monday's meeting is any indication, it may not be an easy question to answer.

In addition to Dupree, several news reporters, including some who have viewed multiple executions, reported in articles that Diaz appeared to grimace, wince or squint during the execution.

Dupree, who was behind soundproof glass in the witness room during the execution, said he saw Diaz breathing furiously, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down.

"It looked like he was in pain to me. He almost appeared to be a fish out of water," said Dupree, supervisor of the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel office for South Florida, which represented Diaz in his appeals. "He was gasping. And that went on for a period of about 10 to 12 minutes."

Bryant, who was inside the chamber, said Diaz only looked strained when he craned his neck to look at the clock on the wall.

Bryant said he turned his back on Diaz several times to answer phone calls placed to the death chamber from the governor's office, so he probably did not see all of Diaz's expressions.

"The only thing that seemed different was the length of time," said Bryant, who has overseen four executions at the prison.

An assistant warden, Randall Polk, who said he could not see Diaz's face during the execution, said staff found the execution so routine that they had an unremarkable debriefing about it that night. They met again the following day because of "media scrutiny and attention," Polk told the panel.

The 11-person commission, which includes lawyers, doctors and lawmakers, is supposed to make an initial recommendation to Gov. Charlie Crist later this week and a final report by March 1. The commission will meet again Monday.

A summary from another task force asked to study just the Diaz execution found that corrections officials didn't strictly follow the state's protocols during the execution.

For one, medical staff decided to flush a second dose of chemicals into Diaz without first checking the catheter going into his arm.

Before adjourning Monday, members of the commission said they would like to interview the medical team. Those people likely will testify anonymously over the telephone so their identities can be shielded, which officials say is required by law.

The meeting Monday was attended by two members of Diaz's family and their lawyer, D. Todd Doss.

Doss said he thought the commission asked softball questions.

"I wish there were a lot more pointed questions and candid answers," Doss said.

As for the conflicting testimony about whether Diaz felt pain, State Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, a member of the commission, said he believes personal opinions about capital punishment may color what people saw that evening.

"It's personal observation," he said. "I would think someone opposed to capital punishment would have seen pain and those who support it may have not."

[Last modified January 30, 2007, 05:56:10]


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