Virginia executioners who inject condemned inmates with lethal doses of drugs
are illegally practicing medicine, pharmacy and anesthesiology without
licenses, two Alexandria lawyers claim in a complaint filed Tuesday.
Attorneys Meghan Shapiro and Christopher Leibig asked the Richmond Circuit
Court for an injunction halting the allegedly unauthorized practices.
The complaint says corrections officers are not checking to ensure that
prisoners are properly anesthetized and unconscious before administering 2
lethal drugs: 1 that causes asphyxiation and another that stops the heart "with
excruciating pain that has been likened to the feeling of having one's veins
set on fire."
Virginia Department of Corrections spokesman Larry Traylor said prison
officials had not seen the complaint and would not comment on pending
"I'm just trying to hold the Department of Corrections accountable," Shapiro
said in a telephone interview. "I don't believe they should be able to operate
outside the law."
The complaint names the department's director, its pharmacy supervisor and
unnamed execution team leaders as defendants. By law, the executioners' names
are secret. But Shapiro said depositions of unnamed witnesses and other
discovery materials in federal lawsuits show that the drugs, available only by
prescription, are not being administered by licensed medical professionals.
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center,
which opposes capital punishment, said lethal injection has been challenged
around the country on various grounds. California and Maryland have put
executions on hold because of lethal injection issues.
However, Dieter said he is aware of no other challenge that has claimed
executioners are violating medical licensing laws and regulations.
"In almost all cases, there are lethal injection challenges accompanying
appeals as these executions get close," Dieter said.
No executions are scheduled at this time in Virginia, which has executed more
people than any state except Texas since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the
death penalty in 1976. Dieter said the federal government and all 34 death
penalty states use lethal injection, although some have other methods available
as backup. In Virginia, condemned inmates are allowed to choose between
injection and electrocution. If they decline to choose, they get the injection.
The administration of those intravenous drugs by unlicensed personnel has been
problematic, according to the complaint filed by Shapiro and Leibig.
"They have no idea what they're doing," Shapiro said in a written statement.
The lawyers claim that along with failing to determine whether a prisoner is
unconscious before administering the lethal drugs, Virginia's executioners have
administered recalled drugs, misused a drug for general anesthesia and made
mistakes in paperwork documenting the handling and administration of chemicals.
Execution teams also have spent substantial time during training sessions
planning barbecues, picnics and other events, the filing says.
Stephen A. Northup, executive director of Virginians for Alternatives to the
Death Penalty, said Virginians "should be concerned, if not shocked" by the
No hearing date has been set.
(source: WTOP News)