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Some lethal injection problems in US executions

December 9, 2016 GMT

Since Texas became the first state to use lethal injection as its execution method on Dec. 7, 1982, some problems have been reported during the process nationwide. Those include delays in finding suitable veins and needles becoming clogged or disengaged. Some past examples:

- December 13, 1988. Texas inmate Raymond Landry was pronounced dead 40 minutes after being strapped to the execution gurney and 24 minutes after the drugs started flowing into his arms. Two minutes after the drugs were administered, the needle came out of Landry’s vein, spraying the chemicals toward witnesses. The curtain separating witnesses from Landry was pulled, then reopened 14 minutes later after the execution team reinserted the needle.


- May 10, 1994. Serial killer John Wayne Gacy’s execution in Illinois was interrupted as the lethal chemicals unexpectedly solidified, clogging the intravenous tube that led into his arm. Prison officials drew blinds to cover the witness window and the clogged tube was replaced. Ten minutes later, the blinds were opened and the punishment resumed. The problem was blamed on prison officials’ inexperience.

- July 18, 1996. Indiana inmate Tommie J. Smith’s lethal injection took 69 minutes when prison technicians were unable to locate suitable veins. A physician was summoned to give Smith a local anesthetic. The doctor also tried unsuccessfully to insert the lethal needle in Smith’s neck. A vein in his foot finally was successful 49 minutes after the process began. He was pronounced dead 20 minutes later.

- April 23, 1998. Texas inmate Joseph Cannon made his final statement and the injection process began. When there was no immediate reaction, he had a quizzical look on his face, then blurted out: “It’s come undone.” A vein in Cannon’s arm had collapsed and the needle popped out. A curtain was pulled to block the view of the witnesses. Fifteen minutes later, it was reopened and the execution was completed.

- May 2, 2006. In Ohio, Joseph L. Clark’s lethal injection was stalled for 22 minutes before prison technicians located a suitable vein. Shortly after the execution began, the vein collapsed and Clark’s arm began to swell. He raised his head and said: “It don’t work. It don’t work.” Curtains were closed while the technicians worked for 30 minutes to find another vein. Clark wasn’t pronounced dead until nearly 90 minutes after the process started.

- Dec. 13, 2006. When Florida inmate Angel Diaz continued to move, was squinting and grimacing after receiving the injection, a second dose of chemicals was administered. An autopsy later found his liver undamaged but that the needle had gone through Diaz’s vein and out the other side, meaning the chemicals went into soft tissue and not the vein.


- Sept. 15, 2009. In Ohio, inmate Romell Broom avoided execution after prison technicians were unable to find a suitable vein after trying for two hours. Broom even had helped to find a good vein. Then-Gov. Ted Strickland ordered the halt. Broom remains on Ohio’s death row.

- Jan. 16, 2014: Dennis McGuire repeatedly gasped during the record 26 minutes it took him to die in Ohio’s execution chamber. The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said its review determined McGuire was asleep and unconscious a few minutes after the drugs were administered and “he did not experience pain, distress or air hunger after the drugs were administered or when the bodily movements and sounds occurred.”

- April 29, 2014: Clayton Lockett’s execution in Oklahoma was halted by the state’s prison director after Lockett writhed and groaned on the gurney. He died 43 minutes after the drugs began to flow. Oklahoma was using a new sedative, midazolam, as part of its three-drug lethal injection procedure. The doctor who oversaw the execution said at the time that he died of a heart attack, but a state autopsy later determined that the drugs killed him.

- July 23, 2014: Joseph Rudolph Wood gasped and snorted for more than 90 minutes after his execution began in Arizona, prompting lawyers to file an emergency appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court demanding that it be stopped. Wood was pronounced dead one hour and 57 minutes after the execution started.

- Dec. 9, 2015. In Georgia, inmate Brian Keith Terrell winced, reportedly in pain, because it took the nurse assigned to the execution an hour to get the IVs inserted into both of the Terrell’s arms. Ultimately, she had use Terrell’s right hand.

- Feb. 3, 2016. In Georgia, it took more than an hour for Brandon Jones to be strapped down and have IV lines that would deliver the lethal drug placed on his body. A doctor was called in to help the two-person team place the IV lines. One line was put in Jones’ right arm and another in the groin area. A media witness reported his eyes closed within a minute of the warden leaving the execution chamber, but they popped open six minutes later.


Source: AP archives, local news reports and Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit that does not take an official stance on capital punishment but is critical of its application.