Vein expert: Needles inserted wrong in execution

Published February 6, 2007

TAMPA - A botched execution last year likely occurred because prison officials improperly inserted needles into an inmate's veins.

That's according to Dr. Denise Clark, a vein specialist who testified Monday before a panel reviewing the state's execution protocols.

An autopsy showed plastic needles - called cannulas - either dislodged from or tore through Angel Diaz's veins and sprayed lethal chemicals into his flesh.

Diaz took 34 minutes to die, more than twice as long as usual. He winced and grimaced for several minutes before he went still and died.

An autopsy the next day found nearly 2 feet of chemical burns on his arms, caused by the drugs used in the execution.

"There was definitely a problem with the cannulazation of the veins," Clark said. "It most likely was done improperly."

Clark also said executioners took unusual steps when they noticed the chemicals weren't moving freely into Diaz's vein.

Directed by a physician, the execution team switched to his other arm, but that vein also wasn't working. The executioners then moved back to the original arm.

But because the first vein already was pierced and ineffective, Clark questioned that move.

A Tampa anesthesiologist serving on the commission, Dr. David Varlotta, also found that strange.

"It's not like it (the vein) would fix itself," he said.

Prison officials already have found the execution team violated several procedures, including not inspecting Diaz's vein when it first became apparent there was a problem.

The panel was supposed to hear testimony from members of the execution team Monday over a speaker phone. But the testimony had to be postponed because a device used to disguise the team members' voices wasn't working properly.

The identity of some execution team members is kept confidential by state law.

Other prison officials have already testified they saw no evidence Diaz was in pain, in contrast to accounts from some who saw the execution from an adjoining witness room.

The U.S. Constitution forbids punishing people in ways that cause unnecessary pain or suffering.

Then-Gov. Jeb Bush created the 11-person panel to study whether procedures should be revised. A final report is due March 1.

Diaz was condemned for the 1979 shooting of Joseph Nagy, a topless bar manager, in Miami.