- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 17, 2009

ANNAPOLIS | Maryland needs to provide detailed medical training requirements for executioners to ensure the state doesn’t have a failed lethal-injection attempt similar to one in Ohio last month, a panel of lawmakers wrote Friday.

The panel outlined a series of concerns in a four-page letter to the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. The department submitted new execution protocols in June in response to a 2006 ruling by the state’s highest court, which halted executions until protocols were examined by the panel.

“The regulations are vague on the issue of medical training,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter mentions the planned Sept. 15 execution of Romell Broom in Ohio, where Gov. Ted Strickland stopped Broom’s lethal injection when executioners couldn’t find a vein after two hours in an unprecedented order since the United States resumed executions in the 1970s.

“Adequate training of the Department lethal injection team is of utmost importance so that this situation does not happen in this State,” said the letter by Delegate Anne Healey and Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, both Prince George’s Democrats.

Mrs. Healey and Mr. Pinsky, who co-chair the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review, also asked about specific training to address what to do if an inmate’s veins are not accessible or a vein collapses.

The lawmakers, who both oppose capital punishment, also questioned the three-drug cocktail used in lethal injections. Sodium pentothal makes the inmate unconscious, pancurium bromide paralyzes the inmate’s breathing, and potassium chloride stops the heart.

Mrs. Healey and Mr. Pinsky wrote that the law clearly calls for using two drugs instead of three, and they asked for an explanation about why three drugs are used.

“In addition, the method of administering the drugs by successive administration with flushing out the lines between each drug does not comport with the statutory requirement of a continuous administration of two drugs in combination,” they wrote.

Mrs. Healey and Mr. Pinsky also note that using a paralytic drug to kill dogs and cats is a criminal misdemeanor.

“This drug is unacceptable for animal euthanasia but would be used in the State for a human execution,” they wrote. “Please explain whether the department has discussed this anomaly or discussed sponsoring corrective legislation based on more current medical knowledge.”

They also wrote that medical evidence is clear that when a paralytic drug is administered, an inmate can’t signal whether he or she can still feel pain. The lawmakers ask the department to explain how an inmate’s level of consciousness will be monitored during an execution.

Mrs. Healey said in an interview that the panel wants to have a better understanding about any other changes made to the protocols.

“Our role on the committee is to make sure that regulations reflect the legislative intent and follow the law that was passed by the legislature,” she said, noting that the new protocols “seem a little bit vague and a little bit contradictory.”

Mrs. Healey and Mr. Pinsky asked the department to provide the committee with documentation, including timelines of the process used by the department, to review the lethal-injection protocols of other states. They also asked the department to explain how the protocols differ from the ones in place before the Court of Appeals ruling in late 2006.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a death-penalty opponent, waited to submit new protocols to give the legislature a chance to repeal capital punishment, an effort that failed in the last legislative session.

Lawmakers worked out a compromise that limits the use of capital punishment to murder cases with biological evidence such as DNA, videotaped evidence of a murder or a videotaped confession.

Now that the protocols have been submitted to the panel, the governor could put the committee on notice that he plans to proceed with executions in 30 days. However, the administration has indicated it has no plans to do that, so the committee can take its time.

“There’s a process here, and I think that today’s questions illustrate that the process is under way and we should let that process play out,” said Shaun Adamec, an O’Malley spokesman.

Maryland has five men on death row. Five inmates have been executed since Maryland reinstated the death penalty in 1978. Wesley Baker, who was put to death in December 2005, was the last person to be executed in Maryland.

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