Florida death row inmates receive ‘consciousness checks’ at execution – Paul Howell

february 20, 2014 (theguardian)

The state corrections official who stands beside condemned inmates as they take their last breaths in Florida’s death chamber recently pulled back the veil on what has largely been a very secretive execution process.

The testimony was given during a 11 February hearing in a lawsuit involving Paul Howell, a death row inmate scheduled to die by lethal injection 26 February. Howell is appealing his execution; his lawyers say the first of the injected drugs, midazolam, isn’t effective at preventing the pain of the subsequent drugs.

The Florida supreme court specifically asked the circuit court in Leon County to determine the efficacy of the so called “consciousness check” given to inmates by the execution team leader.

The testimony is notable because it shows that the Department of Corrections has changed its procedures since the state started using a new cocktail of lethal injection drugs. A shortage of execution drugs around the country is becoming worse as more pharmacies conclude that supplying the lethal chemicals is not worth the bad publicity or legal and ethical risks.

Timothy Cannon, who is the assistant secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections and the team leader present at every execution, told a Leon County court that an additional inmate “consciousness check” is now given due to news media reports and other testimony stemming from the 15 October execution of William Happ.

Happ was the first inmate to receive the new lethal injection drug trio. An Associated Press reporter who had covered executions using the old drug cocktail wrote that Happ acted differently during the execution than those executed before him. It appeared Happ remained conscious longer and made more body movements after losing consciousness.

Cannon said in his testimony that during Happ’s execution and the ones that came before it, he did two “consciousness checks” based on what he learned at training at the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Indiana – a “shake and shout”, where he vigorously shakes the inmate’s shoulders and calls his name loudly, and also strokes the inmate’s eyelashes and eyelid.

After Happ’s execution, Cannon said the department decided to institute a “trapezoid pinch”, where he squeezes the muscle between an inmate’s neck and shoulder.

It was added “to ensure we were taking every precaution we could possibly do to ensure the person was, in fact, unconscious”, Cannon said. “To make sure that this process was humane and dignified”.

Lawyers for Howell say that they are concerned that the midazolam does not produce a deep enough level of unconsciousness to prevent the inmate from feeling the pain of the second and third injection and causes a death that makes the inmate feel as though he is being buried alive.

“Beyond just the fact that constitution requires a humane death, if we decided that we wanted perpetrators of crime to die in the same way that their victims did then we would rape rapists. And we don’t rape rapists,” said Sonya Rudenstine, a Gainesville attorney who represents Howell.

“We should not be engaging of the behavior that we have said to abhor. If we are going to kill people, we have to do it humanely. It’s often said the inmate doesn’t suffer nearly as much as the victim, and I believe that’s what keeps us civilized and humane.”

Corrections spokeswoman Jessica Cary said on Wednesday that the department “remains committed to doing everything it can to ensure a humane and dignified lethal injection process”.

Cannon explained in his testimony that each execution team member “has to serve in the role of the condemned during training at some point”.

“We’ve changed several aspects of just the comfort level for the inmate while lying on the gurney,” he said. “Maybe we put sponges under the hand or padding under the hands to make it more comfortable, changed the pillow, the angle of things, just to try to make it a little more comfortable, more humane and more dignified as we move along.”

He said an inmate is first injected with two syringes of midazolam and a syringe of “flush”, a saline solution to get the drug into the body. Midazolam is a sedative.

Once the three syringes have been administered from an anonymous team of pharmacists and doctors in a back room, Cannon does the consciousness checks.

Meanwhile, the team in the back room watches the inmate’s face on a screen, which is captured by a video camera in the death chamber. The inmate is also hooked up to a heart monitor, Cannon said.

There are two executioners in the back room – the ones who deploy the drugs – along with an assistant team leader, three medical professionals, an independent monitor from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and two corrections employees who maintain an open line to the governor’s office.

If the team determines that the inmate is unconscious, the other two lethal drugs are administered.


Basso went quietly enough. When asked for a final statement, she said “No, sir,” with a tearful look in her eyes. She reportedly looked to a couple of friends positioned behind a window and “mouthed a brief word to them and nodded.” As the drug began to take hold, she began to snore deeply; the snoring slowed and eventually halted and, eleven minutes after the injection, she was declared dead.

*Last Meal: Last meal requests no longer allowed.

Execution Watch with Ray Hill
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as well as on the net here
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on any day Texas executes a prisoner.

filed  february 4 : 5th circuit appeal  pdf

February 5, 2014

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — A woman convicted of torturing and killing a mentally impaired man she lured to Texas with the promise of marriage was scheduled to be executed Wednesday in a rare case of a female death-row inmate.

If 59-year-old Suzanne Basso is lethally injected as scheduled, the New York native would be only the 14th woman executed in the U.S. since the Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976. By comparison, almost 1,400 men have been put to death.

Texas, the nation’s busiest death-penalty state, has executed four women and 505 men.

Basso was sentenced to death for the 1998 slaying of 59-year-old Louis “Buddy” Musso, whose battered and lacerated body, washed with bleach and scoured with a wire brush, was found in a ditch outside Houston. Prosecutors said Basso had made herself the beneficiary of Musso’s insurance policies and took over his Social Security benefits after luring him from New Jersey.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to halt the execution in a ruling Tuesday, meaning the U.S. Supreme Court is likely her last hope. A state judge ruled last month that Basso had a history of fabricating stories about herself, seeking attention and manipulating psychological tests.

Leading up to her trial, Basso’s court appearances were marked by claims of blindness and paralysis, and speech mimicking a little girl.

LOUSIANA – Upcoming execution Christopher Sepulvado-February 5,2014 STAYED

UPDATE FEBRUARY 3. 2014  from Helen Prejean
We’ve just received the news that Christopher Sepulvado’s execution will not proceed on Wednesday. Instead, a trial on the constitutionality of Louisiana’s hastily change execution protocol will take place on April 7. The vigil scheduled for tomorrow has also been cancelled. This is good news, at least for the moment, and more great work by the lawyers.

NO. 93-KA-2692
On Thursday, March 5, 1992, defendant married the victim’s mother, Yvonne. The next day,Friday, the victim came home from school, having defecated in his pants. Yvonne spanked him and refused to give him supper. Defendant returned home from work at approximately 9:00 p.m. That night, the victim was not allowed to change his clothes and was made to sleep on a trunk at the foot of his bed. On Saturday, the victim was not allowed to eat and was again made to sleep on the trunk in his soiled clothes.
At around 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, defendant and the victim were in the bathroom, preparing to attend church services. Defendant instructed the victim to wash out his soiled underwear in the toilet and then take a bath. When the victim hesitated to do so,defendant hit him over the head with the handle of a screwdriver several times with enough force to render him unconscious.
There after, the victim was immersed in the bathtub which was filled with scalding hot water.
Approximately three hours later, at around 1:50 p.m.,defendant and his wife brought the victim to the emergency room at the hospital. At that time the victim was not breathing, had no pulse, and probably had been dead for approximately thirty to sixty minutes. All attempts to revive the victim were futile. The cause of death was attributed to the scald burns covering 60% of the victim’s body, primarily on his backside. There were third degree burns over 58% of the body and second degree burns on the remaining 2%.
The scalding was so severe that the victim’s skin had been burned away. In addition to the burns, medical examination revealed that the victim had been severely beaten. The victim’s
scalp had separated from his skull due to hemorrhaging and bruising. Also, there were deep bruises on the victim’s buttocks.
full opinion click here

Skirting the Constitution: Texas rules Basso competent for execution

Texas set to execute woman for ‘horrible, horrible, horrible’ torture killing

UPDATE : february 4, 2014 (AP)

Texas: 2 courts won’t block woman’s execution

A federal judge has joined Texas’ top criminal court in refusing to stop this week’s scheduled execution of a woman condemned for the torture slaying of a mentally impaired man more than 15 years ago outside Houston.

U.S. District Judge Sim Lake on Monday turned down an appeal from 59-year-old Suzanne Basso hours after Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected a similar appeal. She’s set for lethal injection Wednesday evening in Huntsville.

Basso’s attorney contends she is mentally incompetent for execution for the slaying of 59-year-old Louis “Buddy” Musso.

Additional appeals to delay her punishment are likely headed into the federal appeals courts.

Basso would be the 14th woman executed in the U.S. and the 5th in Texas since the Supreme Court in 1976 allowed capital punishment to resume.
Basso’s attorney asked the court to reverse a ruling last month that Basso is competent to be executed for the slaying of 59-year-old Louis “Buddy” Musso at a home in Jacinto City, just east of Houston.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Monday rejected an appeal from 59-year-old Suzanne Basso. She’s set for lethal injection Wednesday evening in Huntsville.

30 january 2014

If the state of Texas goes through with the planned execution on Feb. 5 of Suzanne Basso, it will be executing a delusional woman with scant understanding of why she’s to be put to death, attorney Winston Cochran Jr. argues in a request for sentence commutation filed this month with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Indeed, Cochran argues that evidence of Basso’s mental health issues was never provided to the jurors who sentenced her to die in 1999 – because no mitigation investigation was ever done and no mitigation evidence was provided to jurors. “Executing Basso would bring discredit upon the Texas judicial system by demonstrating that constitutional protections necessary in death penalty cases are not protected,” he wrote in the BPP filing.

Given the BPP’s history, it is not a stretch to imagine that Basso will be denied clemency or a reprieve in order to allow Cochran to pursue additional appeals – since 2007, the BPP has recommended clemency just 4 times out of the 129 death cases it has considered.

Basso was condemned for the gruesome beating death in 1998 of Louis “Buddy” Musso. According to the state, Basso lured Musso, a 59-year-old intellectually disabled man, to Texas from New Jersey by promising to marry him and then, with 5 other people – including her son – abused Musso, beatings that left his body covered in bruises from head to toe, before he was finally killed by a series of brutal blows to the head, as part of a scheme to collect insurance money and Musso’s other assets.

Cochran has argued that there is no evidence that Basso was the one who actually killed Musso and that because the jury was not asked to find that she was a party to the crime – a theory under which all actors share culpability – her conviction is invalid. Several courts have denied Basso’s appeals, including a district court ruling Jan. 15 in Houston, which found that Basso is competent to be executed.

Basso will be the 8th woman put to death in Texas since the mid-1800s, the 2nd inmate executed this year, and the 510th executed since reinstatement of the death penalty.

(source: Austin Chronicle)


Us- Upcoming Executions february 2014

Month State Inmate
4 DE Gary Ploof – STAYED
5 TX Suzanne Basso   EXECUTED 6.26 PM
5 LA Christopher Sepulvado STAYED 90 days
12 FL Juan Chavez EXECUTED 8.17 PM
26 FL Paul Howell
26 MO Michael Taylor EXECUTED 12:10 AM

ARIZONA – Robert H. Moorman – Execution – February 29, 2012 EXECUTED 10.23 a.m

The Arizona Department of Corrections has scheduled a Feb. 29 execution for a death row inmate convicted of killing his adoptive mother while on a three-day prison release in 1984.Corrections officials announced the execution date Wednesday for 63-year-old Robert Henry Moorman at the state prison complex in Florence.Moorman recently lost an appeal in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider his case.Moorman was serving a nine-year prison term for kidnapping in 1984 when the state let him out on three-day release to visit his adoptive mother at a nearby hotel.Moorman beat, stabbed and strangled the woman, then dismembered her body and threw the pieces away in various trash bins and sewers in Florence before he was captured.

Arizona inmate facing execution hospitalized over illness Arizona death-row inmate Robert Moormann, who is scheduled to be executed Feb.29, was transported to an unnamed hospital Thursday after falling ill at the state prison in Florence, his attorney confirmed.The Arizona Department of Corrections would not provide information — even to Moormann’s attorneys — about Moormann’s condition, but a department spokesman said Thursday afternoon that Moormann was still alive.Moormann, 63, was sentenced to death for the 1984 murder of his adoptive mother.He has a history of health problems and was hospitalized twice last fall, first for an appendectomy and later for a quintuple heart bypass.Arizona prison policy requires death-row inmates facing execution to be kept alive until the last minute before execution by lethal injection.The execution protocol requires that a cardiac defibrillator “be readily available on site in the event that the inmate goes into cardiac arrest at any time prior to dispensing the chemicals; trained medical staff shall make every effort to revive the inmate should this occur.”In 1984, Moormannwas already imprisoned in Florence when he was granted a “compassionate furlough” to visit with his mother at a motel near the prison. During the visit, he killed her and dismembered her, dumping her body in garbage cans.In January, his attorneys argued that Moormann’s deteriorating health had lessened his intellectual functioning to the point where he could not be legally executed.
Arizona Supreme Court asked to stay executionLawyers for death row inmate Robert Henry Moormann have asked the Arizona Supreme Court to stay his scheduled Feb. 29 execution.In a 21-page motion filed Tuesday, Moormann’s attorneys say he was diagnosed in early childhood as being mentally retarded and the state can’t execute him because of that fact.The 63-year-old Moormann was sentenced to death for the 1984 death of his adoptive mother while on a prison furlough.Moormann was serving a prison term of nine years to life for kidnapping when the state let him out on three-day “compassionate furlough” to visit his adoptive mother at a Florence motel.Authorities say Moormann beat, stabbed and suffocated the woman before meticulously dismembering her body.Moormann’s attorneys used an insanity defense, but a jury convicted him of first-degree murder.
Families, others find closure in executionAt 10:23 a.m. on Feb. 29, convicted felon Robert H. Moorman was declared dead following his execution at the Arizona State Prison – 27 years after receiving his sentence.For Tom Rankin this particular order of execution offered a different kind of closure than that for relatives of the victims. He was the police chief in Florence 28 years ago when Moorman committed one of the most heinous crimes in the town’s history.“That was my third execution to observe, but this one was a bit more personal,” Rankin, one of the witnesses, said. “It provided closure for me, not only on that case, but for my law enforcement career. It was the last case that I had pending that I was involved in.“It’s like saying, ‘You’ve done your career. It’s over with now.’”Ironically, the Blue Mist Motel is within sight from the ASP visitors’ parking area. It was at the Blue Mist where, on Jan. 13, 1984, Moorman beat, stabbed and suffocated his adoptive mother, 74-year-old Roberta Moorman, who, according to defense attorneys, sexually abused him into his adult years.Moorman then dismembered Roberta’s body, cutting off her head, legs and arms, halved her torso, and flushed her fingers down the toilet. Most of her remains were found in trash bins around town after asking various businesses if he could “dispose of spoiled meat and animal guts.”Shortly after Moorman asked a corrections employee to dispose of “dog bones,” he was captured. The incident took place during a a three-day “compassionate furlough” from ASP, where Moorman was already serving nine years to life for kidnapping and molesting an 8-year-old girl in 1972.Moorman, 63, was sentenced to death on May 7, 1985. Appeals to overturn his warrant of execution were denied in 1986, 1987 and 1992. A motion to issue a warrant of execution was filed by the attorney general on Oct. 12, 2011 and granted on Nov. 29.Moorman was served his last meal between 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 28. It consisted of one double hamburger (two quarter-pound patties prepared “medium”) with two slices of onion, three leaves of lettuce, three tomato slices and a bun; plus French fries (with four ounces of ketchup), two three-ounce beef burritos, three Royal Crown colas, and two 14-ounce containers of Rocky Road ice cream.

A light breakfast was an option, but there was no word on whether or not Moorman accepted it.

From the reporter’s notebook, here’s the sequence of events:

8 a.m. – The media witnesses are greeted and informed that no cameras, pens or outside note pads are allowed – a pencil and note pad is furnished by the prison.

8:38 a.m. – Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles L. Ryan came to the media room and announced that there were no further stays of execution and no pending motions from the Superior Court.

9:39 a.m. – The media leaves its holding area to another room upstairs. There, a DOC employee offered a briefing on the execution itinerary.

9:45 a.m. – After the briefing, media names were drawn at random to determine the order of entering the viewing gallery. My name was drawn first.

10 a.m. – There’s a delay in the process, as Moorman is having a final meeting with his legal counsel.

10:12 a.m. – The media is led to Housing Unit No. 9, enters the gallery area, and is positioned next to a partition, separate from other witnesses.

10:19 a.m. – Approximately 22 witnesses, other than the media and DOC staff, enter the gallery. An undetermined number of witnesses are on the other side of the partition.

10:21 a.m. – The curtain opens, and Moorman is seen strapped to a gurney, wearing his orange prison apparel. He appears calm as his execution order is being read.

10:23 a.m. – Moorman is asked if he has any final words. Looking up at the ceiling with a slight smile, he responds with an apology to the families involved, adding, “I’m sorry for the pain I caused. I hope this brings closure and they can start healing now. I just hope that they can forgive me in time.”

With that, the process of execution began.

10:24 a.m. – Moorman turns his head to his right and looks at the gallery. One minute later, he begins breathing hard, short of gasping for air, as the lethal injection of pentobarbital began to take effect.

10:27 a.m. – A physician enters the execution room to administer sedation.

10:29 a.m. – Moorman’s eyes are half-closed, looking peaceful, with little, if any, movement.

10:33 a.m. – The DOC announces, “The execution is completed.” The curtain is closed.

10:34 a.m. – The witnesses are excused.

10:40 a.m. – The media gives its witness account to six television stations and various print and radio reporters who did not see the execution.

“Death is never pretty,” Rankin said. “When I was standing there, I was wondering about (Roberta Moorman’s) family and wondering if any of her family was there. I didn’t know because I’ve lost contact with most of them. I didn’t recognize any of the other witnesses.

“For the family’s sake, I hope it’s over. It’s a period I hope they’ll never have to live through again.”

Deacon Ed Sheffer of St. Thomas The Apostle Parish in Tucson, who performs ministry work on death row, has been Moorman’s spiritual advisor for the last 10 years. After the execution, Sheffer said, “At the end, Robert was at a peaceful place and for some time had come to terms with what he had done and his fate. You could hear it in his last words, his thoughts and concerns were for others, not himself.”

Sheffer said Moorman received last rites from Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson on Feb. 21, and had his final communion prior to the execution at approximately 6 a.m.

“He received his communion and was very grateful for our years of working together as he found his relationship with the Lord,” Sheffer said. “He moved from shame to guilt, to asking for mercy and reconciliation.

“His soul is now in God’s hands.”

Rankin noted it was the only case from his days as police chief that resulted in the death penalty, saying, “It’s too bad about the way the death penalty is scheduled, with the long delays and the years it takes to fulfill the sentence. I understand the process, but for the family of the victim, closure should come sooner.

“As for Robert Moorman, he got what he deserved,” Rankin concluded. “There’s no need to talk about him anymore. In law enforcement, we say, ‘case closed.’”