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'As if in pain': Notes from Diaz execution

Published February 23, 2007


STARKE - The curtains separating the witness room from Florida's execution chamber open right at 6 p.m. every time. You can tell because there is a digital clock on the wall.

I witnessed three executions at Florida State Prison last year. In the first two - Arthur Rutherford and Danny Rolling - the inmate stopped moving a few minutes after the curtains opened. Both were pronounced dead at 6:13 p.m.

But the Dec. 13 execution of Angel Diaz took much longer. He moved for a long time and wasn't pronounced dead until 6:36 p.m.

What happened in those 36 minutes has become a matter of debate.

Newspaper reports - including my own - said Diaz grimaced, winced or appeared in pain. I reported that Diaz's "body shuddered." I also noted that for several minutes his mouth was "flexing like a fish out of water."

The Associated Press reporter, who has witnessed all 20 lethal injection executions in Florida, wrote that Diaz was "grimacing in pain." The Miami Herald reporter wrote that the execution "looked agonizing." The Gainesville Sun reporter wrote that Diaz "shuddered and appeared to grimace in pain."

Department of Corrections officials who participated in or witnessed the execution said they saw no such thing. They said Diaz asked what was happening, tried to look at a clock and snored.

How could there be such a conflict?

Before members of the press enter the witness room, the Department of Corrections provides each reporter with a legal notebook and two pencils. The journalists are the only people in the building who take detailed notes of what happens.

What follows is an exact transcript of the notes I took during the execution.


6 p.m.: Diaz turns head and mumbles his last statement. Eyes slightly bloodshot and bleary. thatch of black and white hair. Turns head back up and is strapped.

6:02: Blinks. Swallows hard. Blinks slower. Looks up at guy. Grimaces. Says something. Looks at guy. Grimacing. Talking. Looks at man. Winces eyes.

6:06: Cheek bones pinch up. Talking still. As if in pain. Wrinkled eyes. Squints. Guards act like nothing wrong.

6:07: Still wincing.

6:08: Even juts up chin and stiffens his body. Talking and tensing his body.

6:09: Still talking. Looks at guy.

6:10: Still moving mouth. Eyes closed now. Pursed lips. Shakes his head. Guard has to re-apply strap.

6:11: Mouth still moves. Eyes closed.

6:12: His head faces to the right toward audience. He coughs several times. Shudders. Face reddening.

6:13: Still breathing. His body tenses and he coughs again.

6:14: Still breathing.

6:15: Still breathing. Mouth agape. Deep breaths.

6:16: Mouth moves when breathing.

6:17: Still breathing.

6:18: Still breathing.

6:19: Unusual. Guy talking on phone. Gives phone to guy.

6:20: Still breathing.

6:24: Mouth stops moving. Had gotten shallower and shallower. Mouth and eyes open. Face drains of color.

6:26: Body jolted slightly. No more motion. Eyes open more and more. Guy again on fone.

6:34: Dr comes out.

6:35: Comes out again.

6:36: Called. 23 minutes longer than Ruth and Rolling.

[Last modified February 23, 2007, 05:59:16]

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