The death penalty: A dead end in Florida

Executing inmates is getting harder, more expensive and a lot loonier in Florida.

But kill them we must, and so the follies continue.

This year state officials added a new drug to their lethal-injection cocktail.

The Florida Supreme Court blocked its use last month until a hearing could take place on whether it poses "substantial risk of serious harm" to the condemned.

Only in the American justice system would that make sense.

This put a damper on Gov. Rick Scott's first signed death warrant, although Attorney General Pam Bondi came to the rescue with an immediate appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

It's all part of the $51 million we spend a year on the death penalty. Given that we haven't had an execution in 16 months, that would put the per-capita cost of the next one at about $75 million.

Even if Bondi wins, the issue will be far from settled.

The state uses three drugs in an execution. The first is a barbiturate that knocks the prisoner out. The second paralyzes him and the third stops his heart.

At issue is the first drug.

Like other states, Florida had been using sodium thiopental. But the sole American manufacturer of the drug, Hospira, stopped production in January.

"The drug is not indicated for capital punishment, and Hospira does not support its use in this procedure," the company said.

Some states then obtained the drug illegally from overseas, resulting in seizures from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Florida was one of several states that turned to a replacement drug called pentobarbital. It is used in treating convulsions, such as those suffered by epileptics. Veterinarians use it in larger quantities to put animals down.

In June, Georgia used it to put down Roy Blankenship. He did not go quietly. He jerked around, mumbled and gasped for breath.

This meant that the drug may not have rendered Blankenship fully unconscious. So he may have been awake as the subsequent drugs began suffocating him and stopping his heart.

That pretty much would qualify as torture. And attorneys for death-row inmates pounced with appeals.

To fend them off, Georgia videotaped the next execution and this time the prisoner behaved and died quietly.

Nevertheless, the appeals continue, as we are seeing in Florida.





Look for this special section in your
Baltimore Sun newspaper on Dec. 29, 2013.
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Google Plus
  • RSS Feeds
  • Mobile Alerts and Apps