If the State of Florida is unable to execute prisoners without shrouding the process in secrecy, that is another reason why capital punishment should be abolished entirely.
State prison officials are asking the Legislature to make confidential all records that “could reasonably lead to the identification of any person or entity participating in an execution,” the Tampa Bay Times-Miami Herald recently reported. Tallahassee Office.
The legislation aims to conceal the supply chain behind the mix of drugs used in lethal injections, according to the report. Opponents of the death penalty would then be prevented from pressuring drugmakers to blacklist the state from buying their products.
Secrecy is not new to the state of Florida when it comes to capital punishment. State officials have long shielded the death penalty from scrutiny.
In my first four years as a reporter for The Sun, I witnessed and wrote about seven executions at Florida State Prison near Starke. The barbarism of the death penalty was easy to ignore because of the way lethal injections were administered. It usually resembled a medical procedure in which a patient was sedated, but in this case the patient did not wake up.
During one execution in 2006, however, the facade was lifted. Ángel Díaz’s execution was so botched that he writhed in pain and took 30 minutes to die, 20 minutes longer than the typical execution. The Alachua County Medical Examiner later reported that a misplaced IV line caused Díaz nearly a foot chemical burns to his arms.
Then-Governor. Jeb Bush temporarily halted all executions while a state commission investigated. The senior Florida executioner used voice disguise equipment during his telephone testimony, admitting to the commission that he lacked medical qualifications and was last trained in the lethal injection process seven years before Díaz’s execution.
In some executions I have witnessed, a doctor who pronounced the inmate dead wore a blue balaclava and goggles to hide the identity of the person. The American Medical Association’s ethical guidelines prohibit doctors from participating in executions, so those involved have a vested interest in maintaining such secrecy. But I was still able to uncover the names of at least three doctors involved in the Florida executions through autopsy records.
State prison officials no longer want to take such risks by keeping execution details secret, especially as issues surrounding the lethal injection process are once again in the spotlight. The process was changed after Díaz’s execution and has been changed again in recent years, with Florida now administering a sedative to convicted inmates that other states do not use.
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Some medical experts say the drug is inadequate to render someone truly unconscious during an execution, with reports of inmates showing signs of pain during recent executions backing up their claims. The state’s response has been to cover detainees with sheets and make other changes that prevent witnesses from seeing whether detainees suffer during executions, while working to exempt information about executions from the law on public records.
There are good reasons to believe that capital punishment is unconstitutional if inmates are essentially tortured before they die, although this does not sway the views of some proponents of the death penalty. But Floridians have many other reasons to oppose the death penalty.
Florida leads the nation in death row exemptions, and racial disparities have long been documented in death sentences. The state spends tens of millions of dollars more defending death sentences than it would cost to jail inmates for life.
With so many obvious problems and more the state is trying to hide, Florida must finally end capital punishment.
Nathan Crabbe is the Sun’s opinion and engagement editor. Follow him on twitter.com/nathancrabbe and facebook.com/nathancrabbe.
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