August 22, 2014

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Wilson execution would use new protocol

If convicted killer Daniel Wilson is executed as scheduled on June 3, it will be under a new set of protocols that are designed to ensure condemned inmates have been rendered unconscious by a sedative before two other fatal – and potentially painful – drugs are administered.

The new procedures now require the warden or another member of the execution team to check whether a condemned inmate is unconscious by calling his name, shaking his shoulder and pinching his arm or through the use of another “noxious stimulus” before the rest of the lethal three-drug cocktail used by the state in executions is administered.

The old protocol contained no such safeguards against an inmate remaining conscious.

The execution team member who connected the intravenous lines to the injection ports on the inmate`s arms will also be required to check for problems with the system delivering the fatal drugs after the sedative has been administered under the new guidelines. Previously, the warden and execution team leader had watched for problems with the lines, but no inspection was conducted.

The new protocol also requires that the execution team prepare four grams of the sedative, thiopental sodium, instead of the two grams that had previously been required.

The sedative will be divided into four syringes, two of which are backup doses, according to the new protocols, which were approved by Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Terry Collins.

The protocols also increase the amount of time that a saline drip will flush the lines carrying the drugs to the inmate from at least one minute to at least 90 seconds.

The amounts of pancuronium bromide, which follows the sedative into the inmate`s bloodstream and causes paralysis, and the final drug, potassium chloride, which induces a heart attack, that are administered remained the same as under the state`s previous protocol, which had been in effect since October 2006.

The state has come under fire from death penalty opponents and death row inmates who claim that there is no way to guarantee that an inmate is unconscious before the final two drugs are administered.

In a controversial ruling last year, Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge came to the same conclusion and ordered the state to use only the sedative to execute accused killers Ruben Rivera and Ronald McCloud if they are convicted in separate Lorain murders and sentenced to death.

Use of the other two drugs violated a state law that requires executions to be “quick and painless,” Burge ruled. Experts during Burge`s hearings testified that the sedative was powerful enough to kill on its own.

Jeff Gamso, an attorney who represented Rivera and McCloud during the Burge hearings, said he was disappointed that the state will continue to use the three-drug cocktail.

“It`s mind-bogglingly stupid,” he said. “We know there`s a better way to do it, and they just aren`t interested in doing it.”

The state also was criticized by U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost after he reviewed the state`s previous execution protocol in the case of convicted killer Kenneth Biros, who is also on death row awaiting execution.

While Frost said Biros hadn`t proved that the state`s execution methods were unconstitutional, he also called it “a system replete with inherent flaws that raise profound concerns and present unnecessary risks.”

Alan Rossman, an assistant federal public defender who represents Wilson, said he believes the state made the changes because of Frost`s complaints about how the execution team members are trained.
Wilson was sentenced to death for the 1991 murder of Carol Lutz, whom he locked in the trunk of her car before puncturing the gas tank and setting the car on fire.

Rossman said his client also has raised questions about the training of the members of the execution team who handle the medical preparations of a condemned inmate and administer the lethal drugs.
Under the new protocols, the executioners handling and administering the drugs must be medical professionals under Ohio law to administer and prepare intravenous drugs. They must also have at least one year of experience as a certified medical assistant, phlebotomist, EMT, paramedic or military corpsman.

The old protocol only required that those execution team members be certified to handle and administer drugs under Ohio law.

“It looks like they have seriously taken to heart that the team execution members need to be properly qualified and educated, not only in the nature of the drugs but injecting the drugs and how to detect problems,” Rossman said.

But Rossman said he`s unsure how the new protocols will impact Wilson`s arguments that the execution team is medically unqualified to handle the drugs.

It could eliminate the issue, he said, but it could also help Wilson win a stay of execution.

“There`s some question whether or not the present execution team members have any of this knowledge and training,” Rossman said.

JoEllen Culp, a spokeswoman for the prison system, said the new protocols are the result of a continuous review of how executions are carried out.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.