AP: Executioners' Accounts Didn't Sync With What We Saw

It weighs in on the 13 federal executions it witnessed as a member of the media
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 17, 2021 8:27 AM CST
AP: Executioners' Accounts Didn't Sync With What We Saw
This March 22, 1995, file photo shows the interior of the execution chamber in the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.   (AP Photo/Chuck Robinson, File)

Executioners who put 13 inmates to death in the last months of the Trump administration likened the process of dying by lethal injection to falling asleep and called gurneys "beds" and final breaths "snores." But those tranquil accounts are at odds with reports by the AP and other media witnesses of how prisoners' stomachs rolled, shook, and shuddered as the pentobarbital took effect inside the US penitentiary death chamber in Terre Haute, Ind. The AP witnessed every execution. The sworn accounts by executioners, which government filings cited as evidence the lethal injections were going smoothly, raise questions about whether officials misled courts to ensure the executions scheduled from July to mid-January were done before death penalty opponent Joe Biden became president, reports the AP, which has more:

  • Secrecy surrounded all aspects of the executions. Courts rely on those carrying them out to volunteer information about glitches. None of the executioners mentioned any.
  • Questions about whether inmates' midsections trembled as media witnesses described were a focus of litigation throughout the run of executions. Inmates' lawyers argued it proved pentobarbital caused flash pulmonary edema, in which fluid rushes through quickly disintegrating membranes into lungs and airways, causing pain akin to being suffocated or drowned.
  • The discrepancies could increase pressure on Biden to declare his administration won't execute any of the roughly 50 federal inmates still on death row. Activists want him to go further by backing a bill abolishing the federal death penalty. Biden hasn't spoken about any specific action.
  • During the Sept. 22 execution of William LeCroy, convicted of killing Georgia nurse Joann Lee Tiesler in 2001, the 50-year-old's stomach area heaved uncontrollably immediately after the pentobarbital injection. It lasted about a minute, according to the AP and other reports. Executioner Eric Williams stood next to LeCroy as he died. But Williams made only cursory reference to "the rise and fall" of LeCroy’s abdomen in his account.
  • Government lawyers have offered an alternative explanation. In an Oct. 8 filing, government expert Kendall Von Crowns, who didn't witness the executions, relied on executioners' descriptions to suggest journalists misperceived what they saw. It was more likely, he said, that journalists saw "hyperventilation due to the anxiety associated with his impending death."
(Read the full AP story for much more.)

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