March 13, 2007

Witness To A Botched Execution

Very rarely does the general public get a chance to witness the events and consequences of an execution, especially of a botched execution, as when a state puts a person to death the process is witnessed by only a few and almost always is so methodically sterilized that other then the resulting death of the intended victim there is nothing to report. Putting a person to death becomes a nonevent.

Recently however, the State of Florida attempted to put Angel Diaz to death by lethal injection on December 13th, 2006, but this “execution” did not go according to plan. Because of this botched execution Florida Governor Charlie Crist issued a moratorium on all further executions in Florida until a state commission can examine the circumstances of that botched execution.

Several other states have followed Florida’s lead in issuing indefinite moratoriums on any further executions until their own lethal injection process can be thoroughly examined. Numerous states are also the subject of pending legal actions directed at challenging that state’s protocol (methods and means) of carrying out lethal injection executions.

The following is an eyewitness account of the December 13th, 2006 botched execution of Angel Diaz. This is now provided verbatim from a transcript of a hearing held December 28th, 2006 in which witness Neil Dupree testified in the case of Corey Duane Hamilton, a death sentenced inmate in Oklahoma, challenging Oklahoma’s own process governing lethal injections. (See, Hamilton v. Jones, case # civ-06-1193F, U.S. Dist Ct., Western Dist. of Oklahoma).

This following testimony provides a graphic portrayal of an execution, witnessed firsthand by a lawyer sitting not more than ten feet away. Although somewhat lengthy, this unprecedented window allows each of us to witness the undeniably barbaric and torturous infliction of slow death of another human being at the hands of the state. Only by making this public can all others now have a view of the true impact and effect of capital punishment.

The following excerpt is quoted directly from the testimony of Neil Dupree, describing what he personally witnessed on December 13th, 2006.

“When you come into the execution viewing area there are several rows of seats. I was seated in the front row. There’s a window that opens up so that you can see into the execution chamber. That window was probably about 3 and a half feet high and 8 to 10 feet wide. I was in the front row on the far left seat.

When the curtains opened up – the curtains opened up promptly at six o’clock, I was able to see Mr. Diaz. He was strapped to a gurney. He had his right arm extended from one of the paddles that came out from the gurney itself. There was a leather strap that was over his forehead. There was a sheet that was covering his body. He still appeared to be wearing a white shirt.

There was a person – if you could picture the gurney, it was lengthwise to us. There was a Department of Correction’s guard at his head, there was another DOC guard next to where his waist would have been, and there was a third DOC guard that was set off by his feet, but further back, probably about 3 to 4 feet from the gurney.

There were two other people I later learned were the warden and the assistant warden. There were two phones that were by those two gentlemen.

…Like I said, I was no more than 6 or 7 feet from Mr. Diaz. I could see the I.V. insertion site in Mr. Diaz’s right arm, where you would bend your elbow, if you normally got blood taken out, you know, for just an annual physical, there was obviously a needle inserted there. It was very heavily taped, as was his right hand. His right hand was palms up and it was strapped to the paddle and it was heavily, heavily taped. And then there was also a leather strap above where the I.V. needle had been inserted into his arm. There was a strap above that.

…I was able to see the tubing running from the I.V. insertion site into some other portion of the room. There was an I.V. tube that ran from his arm – it was taped to the gurney itself and then loosely fell underneath the gurney and then it appeared to go into the wall. There were two I.V. tubes that appeared to be in the back of the wall in what looked like a little port that was, I don’t know, 6 inches by 5 inches.

…At some point in time during the execution procedure I was able to see fluid flowing through the IV tube – it was a sudden rush, but that was further into the procedure. It was well after the procedure initially appeared to start, right then, that’s when it became noticeable to me.”

(Question by Jones’s lawyer) “If you would, please describe for the court… what happened after the curtain was opened and the execution began?”

(Dupree) “As I said, it opened promptly at six o’clock. The warden came forward – a person I later learned to be the warden, and asked Mr. Diaz if he had any last words. Mr. Diaz turned his head towards the audience and spoke in Spanish very briefly. I’m not totally fluent in Spanish; I understood some of what he said. And that was it.

Then the guard that was at his head put the leather restraint across his head, which he held manually. The warden stepped back toward the two phones that were in the corner. And I expected that somebody was going to say something or give some kind of indication the procedure was going to start. I did not hear the warden say anything. I really didn’t notice him make any kind of signal.

I guess their protocol is they turn off the system once the execution starts. Once that occurred, within just a few minutes, I noticed that Mr. Diaz appeared to be mouthing words. I do not know what he was saying; I could not hear him. But he appeared to be speaking to the man that was holding the leather strap over his forehead. He was grimacing, his jaw was clenching, his Adams apple, which was pretty prominent, was bobbing up and down furiously, and he just appeared to be in a lot of pain. His body appeared to be rigid. And, again, he talked for at least a minute and maybe more, but he was obviously trying to communicate something to somebody; again. I just don’t know what he was saying (as they turned off the intercom in the death chamber).

Within a couple of minutes after that, his head started to slowly roll to the right, his right eye closed, his left eye remained open. He just appeared to be, you know, slowly – I don’t know if “going to sleep” is the right word, but he just appeared to slowly be a little bit more relaxed. And then I noticed that his Adam’s apple started bobbing even more furiously, his jaw became clenched again, and then he started gasping of air. And then the gasping for air took a good 10 to 12 minutes, where he was literally gasping.

And the only thing I could liken it to is my father died of lung cancer five years ago and the last minute of his life -- we were there for it, my family was there – and at the last minute, he was doing the same type of gasping, where he really appeared to be almost a fish out of water because he was gasping so heavily for air.

It appeared to me that Mr. Diaz – his body rigid at points in time. And that’s basically my observation through what I saw until I saw the warden go to the phone, there was an open line – there was a black gentleman and a white gentleman. The black gentleman was the assistant warden. And there was an open line on the wall. The warden took the phone, spoke into it, gave the phone back to the black gentleman, turned around, maybe for a moment of two, took the phone again, and then went to another phone and picked up that phone. I don’t know who he was speaking to, obviously. And then he went back to his place, where he was standing originally.

It appeared to me that the DOC personnel were extremely uncomfortable. Clearly something was not going right. Mr. Diaz continued to move, he continued to gasp. And you could see the DOC personnel were kind of – their eyes were going back and forth to each other.

Eventually what happened is that Mr. Diaz – slowly his pallor changed. He was a – being from Puerto Rico, he was more tanned, he appeared to get very grayish, his breathing got more and more shallow, his Adam’s apple stopped bobbing, and then, oddly enough, his right eye, which had been closed, opened during that time, so now both of his eyes were open.

They then had – there was a metal door. The metal door opened and a gentleman – I guess I couldn’t say gentlemen – but a person who was garbed in purple from head to toe, it looked almost that a HAZMAT suit with a beekeeper’s mask, almost, except for – I don’t know if anyone can picture a welder with a little slit for their eyes – it appeared to me to be – that the only thing you could see on this person was his eyes, because it was almost like a welder’s suit, where you have that little part where you can see through the eyes.

That person came in. He shined a light into Mr. Diaz’s eyes, took out a stethoscope and checked his heart rate, and nodded to the warden, went back in. And I thought it was the second person that came out, did the same thing, where they checked his pupils, checked with a stethoscope, and then walked back in the room. At that point in time, the warden came in and announced that Mr. Diaz had, in fact, expired. And that’s what I observed.”

(Question by Defense lawyer) “How long did the execution process take from the time that it began until that time Mr. Diaz was pronounced dead?”

(Answer by Dupree) “From the time he stopped speaking (gave his last words), it would be 34 minutes.” (end of testimony excerpt)

The above is a first hand account of the botched execution or Angel Diaz on December 13th, 2006 at Florida State Prison. Immediately after that prolonged and torturous death, the DOC spokesperson attempted to blame the problems on Diaz’s liver problems, which were proven false, and a deliberately fabricated attempt to cover up the incompetence of those responsible for carrying out the execution. The medical examiner conducting the autopsy on Diaz’s body determined that the I.V. needles inserted into Diaz’s arms had been improperly inserted, completely pushing beyond the veins and into the soft tissue, causing almost foot long chemical burns on each arm, and preventing the lethal chemicals from being properly administered. Thus, Mr. Diaz was slowly tortured to death.

Subsequently the Governor of Florida formed a commission to look into the cause of this botched execution and how it can be avoided in the future. Within the next week or so a new blog will be posted entitled “Why Florida’s Commission Examining Lethal Injection Is A Farce” that will show how politicians have corrupted fair reviews of this botched execution with a predisposition of covering the state. I hope that all of you will come back when it is posted and fully read this expose.