tampabay.com

Execution lessons: too secret, too loose

By HOWARD TROXLER
Published February 22, 2007


In the Dec. 13 execution of Angel Diaz, we seem to have poked through and past his veins in both arms and killed him the slow way, with the stuff seeping through him.

Some people will say:

"So what? I hope the guy DID suffer. He was a convicted murderer. What are we supposed to do, put a chocolate on his pillow?"

That's an understandable sentiment. I've had it myself. But come on - you know that's not the way we're supposed to be. Our Constitution says: no cruel and unusual punishment. It's enough that we just carry out the sentence.

In recent days, an 11-member outfit created after Dec. 13 has been meeting in Tampa to figure out what happened. It hasn't been reassuring:

-The needles went through the veins in both the guy's arms at some point.

-They had trouble pumping the chemicals into him.

-It took him 34 minutes to die, about twice as long as normal.

-When it didn't work at first, they pumped him with extra doses on the fly. That was the call of the anonymous executioner, who testified that he had no medical qualifications himself, but consulted with the medical staff there.

-Witnesses watching through the window said the guy lay there gasping like a fish out of water. The Department of Corrections folks inside the room said they didn't see anything like that.

-Afterward, Diaz had footlong chemical blisters on both arms, the autopsy said.

There's a lot we don't know. Did the sedative work at all, if it missed his vein? Did the second drug to paralyze him kick in without the sedative? Was he lying there, feeling the burn of the third and fatal drug as it crept through him?

Most of all, these hearings demonstrated we don't know enough about who's in that room and who's doing what.

There's still a weird culture of melodramatic secrecy, a holdover from the days of the hangman and electric chair.

One of the last witnesses was the state's anonymous "medical professional" present - we don't know anything about him - who contradicted the other evidence.

Speaking with a disguised voice over a telephone, he refused to tell the panel anything about his background, but insisted that the needles must have torn through Diaz's veins only after he was dead, when they moved him.

Right. All the other stuff was just coincidence.

Good grief! Enough of these secret witnesses, and vein-missing needle inserters, and anonymous executioners making decisions on the fly, and the whole we-didn't-see-nothin' culture.

The process should be completely open and transparent. If we are carrying out the law of our state, why do we act like we are ashamed of it?

Furthermore, the execution protocol ought to be hyper-sensitive to error, instead of allowing folks to plunge ahead no matter what.

Let's put another monitor in the room if we have to - maybe even someone from outside the Department of Corrections - and give him or her the power to correct it or even halt it. (An agent from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement observes from an adjacent room, but maybe that's not enough.)

Is this bleeding-heart boo-hooing? No, just the opposite. We're not talking about whether we should stop executions. We're talking about whether we will be forced to stop because we can't get them right.