Some lethal injection problems in US executions

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Associated Press

Posted on July 24, 2014 at 12:00 AM

Updated Thursday, Jul 24 at 1:02 AM

Since Texas became the first state to use lethal injection as its execution method on Dec. 7, 1982, some problems have been reported during the process nationwide. Those include delays in finding suitable veins, needles becoming clogged or disengaged, and reactions from inmates who appeared to be under stress. Some examples:

— July 23, 2014. Joseph Rudolph Wood gasped and snorted for more than an hour and a half after his execution began in Arizona, prompting his lawyers to file an emergency appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court demanding that it be stopped. Wood gasped more than 600 times before he was pronounced dead, one hour and 57 minutes after the execution started. Defense lawyer Dale Baich called it a botched execution that should have taken 10 minutes.

— April 29, 2014. Clayton Lockett's execution in Oklahoma was halted by the state's prison director after Lockett gritted his teeth, tried to lift his head and convulsed. Oklahoma was using a new sedative as part of its three-drug lethal injection procedure. Blinds were lowered to block the view of witnesses. When halted, Lockett already had been declared unconscious by a physician. The state corrections agency said Lockett died later of a heart attack. An autopsy was being conducted.

— Jan. 16, 2014. Dennis McGuire repeatedly gasped during the record 26 minutes it took him to die in Ohio's execution chamber. The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said its review determined McGuire was asleep and unconscious a few minutes after the drugs were administered and "he did not experience pain, distress or air hunger after the drugs were administered or when the bodily movements and sounds occurred."

— Sept. 15, 2009. In Ohio, inmate Romell Broom avoided execution after prison technicians were unable to find a suitable vein after trying for two hours. Broom even had helped to find a good vein. Then-Gov. Ted Strickland ordered the halt. Broom, who remains on Ohio's death row, has complained that he was stuck with needles at least 18 times and suffered intense pain. He's sued, arguing that a second attempt to put him to death would be unconstitutionally cruel.

— December 13, 2006. When Florida inmate Angel Diaz continued to move, was squinting and grimacing after receiving the injection, a second dose of chemicals was administered. Florida prison officials initially blamed the issue on Diaz's liver problems. An autopsy later found his liver undamaged but that the needle had gone through Diaz's vein and out the other side, meaning the chemicals went into soft tissue and not the vein. As a result, then-Gov. Jeb Bush suspended executions in Florida and named a panel to examine the process.

— May 2, 2006. In Ohio, Joseph L. Clark's lethal injection was stalled for 22 minutes before prison technicians located a suitable vein. Shortly after the execution began, the vein collapsed and Clark's arm began to swell. He raised his head and said: "It don't work. It don't work." Curtains were closed while the technicians worked for 30 minutes to find another vein. Clark wasn't pronounced dead until nearly 90 minutes after the process started.

— April 23, 1998. Texas inmate Joseph Cannon made his final statement and the injection process began. When there was no immediate reaction, he had a quizzical look on his face, then blurted out: "It's come undone." A vein in Cannon's arm had collapsed and the needle popped out. A curtain was pulled to block the view of the witnesses. Fifteen minutes later, it was reopened and the execution was completed.

— July 18, 1996. Indiana inmate Tommie J. Smith's lethal injection took 69 minutes when prison technicians were unable to locate suitable veins. A physician was summoned to give Smith a local anesthetic. The doctor also tried unsuccessfully to insert the lethal needle in Smith's neck. A vein in his foot finally was successful 49 minutes after the process began. He was pronounced dead 20 minutes later.

— May 3, 1995. Emmitt Foster's punishment in Missouri was halted seven minutes after it began when chemicals stopped. Foster gasped and convulsed and the blinds in the death chamber were drawn. He was pronounced dead 30 minutes later and the blinds were reopened so witnesses could see his body. A coroner who pronounced him blamed the problem on leather straps that bound Foster too tightly to the execution gurney and restricted the flow of the chemicals. The straps had been loosened to complete the punishment.

— May 10, 1994. Serial killer John Wayne Gacy's execution in Illinois was interrupted as the lethal chemicals unexpectedly solidified, clogging the intravenous tube that led into his arm. Prison officials drew blinds to cover the witness window and the clogged tube was replaced. Ten minutes later, the blinds were opened and the punishment resumed. The problem was blamed on the inexperience of prison officials.

— May 7, 1992. Texas prisoner Justin Lee May had an unusually violent reaction to the lethal drugs, gasping and coughing and rearing against the leather belts that restrained him to the death chamber gurney. Amid groans, he lifted his head. His eyes and mouth remained open as he died.

— December 13, 1988. Texas inmate Raymond Landry was pronounced dead 40 minutes after being strapped to the execution gurney and 24 minutes after the drugs started flowing into his arms. Two minutes after the drugs were administered, the needle came out of Landry's vein, spraying the chemicals toward witnesses. The curtain separating witnesses from Landry was pulled, then reopened 14 minutes later after the execution team reinserted the needle. Texas prison officials described it as "blowout." Subsequently, a plastic window was erected in the Texas death chamber to separate the inmate from witnesses.

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Source: AP archives and Death Penalty Information Center, an advocacy group that opposes the death penalty.

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