A U.S. District Court judge denied last night a request from death row inmate Vernon Lee Evans Jr. to postpone his scheduled execution, ruling that "it would be an exercise in speculation" to find that Maryland's lethal injection procedure exposes Evans to a substantial and unnecessary risk of pain and suffering.
Evans, 56, who could be put to death as soon as Monday for the 1983 contract killings of two Pikesville motel clerks, had challenged the state's execution procedure in a federal lawsuit on the grounds that it violates his constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
He lost a similar lawsuit in state court Tuesday.
In a decision issued about 7 p.m., Judge Benson E. Legg found that Evans had failed in his challenge of Maryland's execution procedure in general and in his claim that decades of drug use have so ravaged his veins that the lethal injection method would leave him at a particular risk of unnecessary and excruciating pain.
Two doctors testified that intravenous heroin abuse - including as recently as four years ago - left Evans without any peripheral veins, such as those in his arms and legs, that could support the flow of the three drugs that Maryland uses in lethal injection.
As a result, an intravenous line would have to be inserted into one of three major veins in a surgical procedure that should be done by a specially trained doctor, Dr. Thomas Scalea, a surgeon and physician- in-chief of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, testified.
If done improperly, the insertion of such a "central line" IV could cause Evans to bleed to death or suffocate before the chemicals stopped his heart, Dr. Mark Heath, a Columbia University Medical Center anesthesiologist, testified.
But two paramedics and a nurse assistant - all assigned primary or backup roles on the "execution team" to be used next week in Evans' case - found otherwise.
A Queen Anne's County paramedic who testified yesterday by telephone - and without providing his name - told the judge that the inmate's veins "didn't show outward signs of disease or compromise."
The nurse assistant, who works at the Baltimore Washington Medical Center and whose identity also was not revealed, wrote in an affidavit that the team found that Evans' arm veins were "visible to the naked eye" and "healthy enough ... to support an IV catheter and fluid administration."
Legg wrote in his decision that although use of a central line would eliminate any concern over the suitability of Evans' veins, "it is not this Court's prerogative to dictate a set of best practices for each execution."
Of the 38 states that impose the death penalty, 37 use lethal injection. All but two of those use the same three-drug protocol as Maryland.
Evans was sentenced to death in 1992 for the fatal shootings of David Scott Piechowicz and Susan Kennedy in the lobby of the Warren House Motel.
Evans has several legal motions pending before Maryland's Court of Appeals and a petition pending with the U.S. Supreme Court.