Florida stays first execution using new drug due to cruelty concerns

Florida stays first execution using new drug due to cruelty concerns

By staff writers
26 Jul 2011

The state of Florida has stayed the execution of Manuel Valle to allow a hearing on whether the use of a new execution drug will cause him unnecessary pain, in violation of the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Valle, a Cuban citizen with ties to Spain has been on death row for more than three decades and is now being assisted by the EC Project run by the legal charity Reprieve.

The EC Project is a three year initiative launched in 2009 and largely funded by the European Commission. It aims to identify and assist European nationals on US Death Rows and to raise public awareness of the issue of Europeans facing capital charges abroad.

Valle had been due to be executed on 2 August 2011. However, following botched executions in other states which use pentobarbital – which in Florida and much of the US has replaced the previously widely-used anaesthetic sodium thiopental – Florida’s Supreme Court decided on Monday 25 July to grant a stay of execution.

Florida’s recent history has seen a number of botched executions, notably that of Angel Diaz in 2006 which resulted in the then-Governor Jeb Bush suspending all executions and establishing a commission to look into the issue, leading to a two-year hiatus.

The recent execution of Roy Willard Blankenship in Georgia in which pentobarbital was used, had similarities of that of Angel Diaz – both men grimaced, struggled and appeared to be inadequately anaesthetised.

A Harvard anaesthesiologist, Dr David Waisel said that judging by eyewitness accounts, Blankenship was “inadequately anesthetised” and “suffered greatly”. He has warned that “Mr. Blankenship’s reaction to the pentobarbital injection may be indicative of other inmates’ reactions.”

As Manuel Valle’s is set to be in Florida, Roy Blankenship’s execution was the first to be carried out in Georgia using pentobarbital. Concerns over excessive suffering as a result of the new drug have also seen legal challenges, stays, and even the videotaping of an execution in other states.

A Reprieve investigator, Katherine Bekesi said: “Manuel Valle has already faced serious injustices. He has been denied proper clemency proceedings, and has been left to languish on death row for an astonishing 33 years. Now he faces execution using the same drug which has resulted in terrible suffering for other prisoners. This stay of execution is welcome – it has to be hoped that Mr Valle will not now face the final injustice of an excruciating death.

[Ekk/4]

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