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Growing criticisim of lethal injection puzzles its creator

He says there's no pain if procedure is followed.

Published May 11, 2007


SANTA ROSA, Calif. - Thirty years ago, Oklahoma medical examiner A. Jay Chapman came to the Oklahoma Statehouse and dictated the formula for a cocktail of three drugs to a lawmaker looking for a more humane way to execute the condemned.

As Chapman spoke, Rep. Bill Wiseman scribbled on a legal pad. That afternoon, Wiseman introduced a bill that would make Oklahoma the first state to adopt lethal injection.

Chapman's method has been taken up by 37 states, the federal government and the U.S. military. It has been used to execute 900 U.S. prisoners.

But the formula and the way it is administered are now under broad legal assault around the country as a violation of the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Activists argue that Chapman's protocol was hastily conceived and that some prisoners suffer excruciating pain without being able to cry out.

"Everything is political correctness and everyone wants to be a victim today, " said the cantankerous Chapman, 68, who lives alone in Santa Rosa when he is not teaching medicine in Nepal or trekking in the Himalayas. "All of the sudden, the person on death row is a victim."

On Wednesday, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said he is ready to resume lethal injections, with some changes in death penalty procedures, after a five-month moratorium called after a botched execution in December.

A recent study in the online journal PLoS Medicine said some inmates suffer extreme pain during lethal injections because of insufficient and haphazard doses of the chemicals.

Chapman blames incompetent executioners.

Decades after he developed the protocol, defense lawyers, doctors and death penalty foes publicly question the amount of scientific research that went into the creation of lethal injection.

Chapman said he consulted a toxicologist and two anesthesiologists. But he said it didn't actually require much research because the three chemicals - a painkiller, a muscle-paralyzing agent and a heart-stopper - are well-known to physicians.

If states are looking for a way to quickly and painlessly put someone to death, he has a suggestion.

"There is absolutely nothing wrong with the guillotine, " he said impatiently. "It can be operated by an idiot, and it is a very effective instrument."

[Last modified May 11, 2007, 01:34:18]

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