ADVERTISEMENT

Nevada’s top doctor due to testify in Vegas execution case

December 16, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this photo provided by the Nevada Department of Corrections, the then-newly completed execution chamber at Ely State Prison in Ely, Nev. is shown on Nov. 10, 2016. Nevada's chief medical officer is expected to testify Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, as hearings resume before a federal judge in Las Vegas who is considering whether the state's lethal injection execution plan is constitutional. (Nevada Department of Corrections via AP, File)
FILE - In this photo provided by the Nevada Department of Corrections, the then-newly completed execution chamber at Ely State Prison in Ely, Nev. is shown on Nov. 10, 2016. Nevada's chief medical officer is expected to testify Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, as hearings resume before a federal judge in Las Vegas who is considering whether the state's lethal injection execution plan is constitutional. (Nevada Department of Corrections via AP, File)
FILE - In this photo provided by the Nevada Department of Corrections, the then-newly completed execution chamber at Ely State Prison in Ely, Nev. is shown on Nov. 10, 2016. Nevada's chief medical officer is expected to testify Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, as hearings resume before a federal judge in Las Vegas who is considering whether the state's lethal injection execution plan is constitutional. (Nevada Department of Corrections via AP, File)
1 of 2
FILE - In this photo provided by the Nevada Department of Corrections, the then-newly completed execution chamber at Ely State Prison in Ely, Nev. is shown on Nov. 10, 2016. Nevada's chief medical officer is expected to testify Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, as hearings resume before a federal judge in Las Vegas who is considering whether the state's lethal injection execution plan is constitutional. (Nevada Department of Corrections via AP, File)
1 of 2
FILE - In this photo provided by the Nevada Department of Corrections, the then-newly completed execution chamber at Ely State Prison in Ely, Nev. is shown on Nov. 10, 2016. Nevada's chief medical officer is expected to testify Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, as hearings resume before a federal judge in Las Vegas who is considering whether the state's lethal injection execution plan is constitutional. (Nevada Department of Corrections via AP, File)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada’s chief medical officer is expected to testify Thursday as hearings resume before a federal judge in Las Vegas who is considering whether the state’s lethal injection execution plan is constitutional.

Attorneys for Dr. Ihsan Azzam have argued the state’s top doctor has not been involved in the research or writing of the execution procedure and that Nevada prisons chief Charles Daniels is the official responsible for carrying out what would be Nevada’s first execution in more than 15 years. Daniels is scheduled to testify Friday.

Azzam was Nevada’s chief health doctor from 1995 until he was named to his current post in 2018. His background is in epidemiology and diseases, not a drug-related pharmacology or anesthesiology.

Defense attorneys for Zane Michael Floyd argue that a never-before-used combination of three or four drugs including the anesthetic ketamine and the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl would subject Floyd to an agonizingly cruel and inhumane death.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I think this central to the case,” U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware II said Tuesday, during an exchange with Daniel Buffington, a witness called by attorneys for the state, on the first day of hearings. The judge has indicated hearings could stretch into January.

Buffington testified that high doses of the drugs — also possibly including a muscle paralytic called cisatracurium and then the heart-stopping salt potassium chloride — would be effective in causing death.

“These drugs have never been used like this previously in this combination,” the judge observed. “They’ve never been tested at this level on a person.”

Floyd, 46, does not want to die. He was convicted in 2000 of killing four people and wounding a fifth in a 1999 shotgun attack at a Las Vegas grocery store. He also has appeals pending before the Nevada Supreme Court and the 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Buffington is a Tampa, Florida-based clinical pharmacologist with doctor of pharmacy and masters of business administration degrees who is on the faculty of the University of South Florida Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy.

He testified about visiting the execution chamber at Ely State Prison, which has remained unused since it was completed in 2016 at a cost of $860,000. It replaced a facility at the now-closed Nevada State Prison in Carson City.

Buffington said he thought the Ely facility was appropriately supplied and equipped.

Floyd’s attorneys, Assistant Federal Public Defenders David Anthony and Brad Levenson, questioned Buffington’s expertise and are expected to ask Boulware to disregard his testimony.