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by Ron Word
Saturday, Dec. 16, 2006 at 9:19 AM
Attorneys, death-penalty foes outraged by 34-minute execution
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Defense attorneys and death-penalty opponents were outraged Thursday over an execution in which the condemned man took more than half an hour to die, needed a rare second dose of lethal chemicals and appeared to grimace in his final moments.
"I am definitely appalled at what happened. I have no doubt he suffered unduly," Angel Nieves Diaz's attorney, Suzanne Myers Keffer, said after Diaz died by injection.
Executions in Florida normally take about 15 minutes, with the inmate rendered unconscious and motionless within the first three to five minutes. But Diaz took 34 minutes to die and appeared to be moving for most of that time.
Prison officials promised to investigate but insisted that Diaz felt no pain and that it was not unexpected a second dose would be required, because liver disease had affected his ability to metabolize the drugs. They offered no explanation for the grimace or why officials did not adjust the dosage from the start.
Foes of capital punishment seized on the execution to argue that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment, just as they did after two inmates' heads caught fire in Florida's electric chair in 1990 and 1997 and a condemned man suffered a severe nosebleed in 2000 during his electrocution.
Those cases led Florida to get rid of the electric chair and switch to lethal injection, which was portrayed as more humane and more reliable.
"This is paralleling to an extraordinary degree what was happening to the electric chair in Florida," said Deborah Denno, a Fordham University law professor who has written extensively about the death penalty. "But this execution is worse. This inmate was conscious."
Diaz's relatives said he did not have liver disease and accused Florida officials of lying about details of the execution. And one medical expert vehemently disputed the notion that liver disease interfered with the lethal drugs.
Diaz, 55, was executed Wednesday for the 1979 murder of the manager of a Miami topless bar.
Seconds after the chemicals began flowing, Diaz looked up, blinked several times and appeared to be mouthing words. A minute later, he began grimacing.
He appeared to move for 24 minutes after the first injection, at one point looking toward witnesses and another time licking his lips and blowing. He was given a second dose of the chemicals at some point before he died.
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