Thursday, June 14, 2012

Idaho carries out fully open execution

The 20th execution of 2012

Media groups had argued that Idaho's practice of hiding this first half of lethal injection executions from view violated the First Amendment rights of the public.

A week ago, no one aside from the prison officials would have seen the state's lethal injection process in its entirety. But a federal judge ordered it open, siding with more than a dozen Idaho news groups, including The Associated Press, who sued in federal court for access.

Richard Leavitt's execution this week marked the first time that the public would have access to the execution procedure from beginning to end.

The six correctional officers, wearing surgical masks and stationed three to a side like pallbearers, lifted the inmate off the gurney and strapped him to the execution table inside the Idaho state prison.

Others attached intravenous lines to Leavitt's arms and electrodes to the convicted killer's chest and stomach to measure his breathing and heart rate.

Four media witnesses watched as the 53-year-old Leavitt was wheeled, strapped to a backboard on a gurney, into the death chamber. They watched as Leavitt was moved to the table and as three members of a medical team inserted IVs into his arms.

The inmate spoke with them, though witnesses could not hear the exchanges.

They used a blood pressure cuff to enlarge the veins in his elbows, starting with the right, then the left. They cleaned his arms repeatedly with alcohol wipes to prevent infection — in case the execution was called off at the last minute.

A member of the team prodded the inside of Leavitt's arm, feeling for veins. After a moment, he slipped in the needle, sliding the thin plastic catheter that would deliver the lethal chemicals. The process was repeated on the other side.

The team leader placed a hand over the inside of his own elbow, and bent his arm back and forth, to let the executioners watching from another room that Leavitt was ready for the fatal dose of pentobarbital.

Leavitt declined to make a final statement and did not ask to see a spiritual adviser before his execution. He was pronounced dead at 10:25 a.m.

Leavitt was convicted in 1985 for stabbing and mutilating 31-year-old Danette Elg. Prosecutors said Leavitt stabbed her repeatedly with exceptional force, and then cut out her sexual organs.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected his last-minute request to stay the execution, which cleared the way for Idaho to put to death its second inmate in 17 years. In November, Paul Ezra Rhoades died by lethal injection for his role in the slaying of three people in eastern Idaho.

Leavitt had maintained his innocence, but former U.S. Attorney Tom Moss noted that several judges examined Leavitt's case during multiple appeals and none found a reason to justify overturning his death sentence.

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