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Method: Lethal Injection

States using the lethal injection




















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 U.S. Military

 U.S. Government

Oklahoma was the first state to adopt lethal injection in 1977, five years later Texas also adopted this method of execution.

34 State out of the 38 that have the death penalty use lethal injection as the primary form of execution. The U.S. federal government and the U.S. military use lethal injection too. 

During the execution the person is strapped to a gurney, his legs, arms, head and chest tied down to restrain him and heart monitors are positioned on his skin.

Two needles are inserted in the vein. The second needle serves as a back up in the case the first should malfunction. The needles are connected to several intravenous drips through long tubes that pass in a hole on the wall.

An harmless saline solution is immediately administered, then at the warden's signal the curtain that separate the person from the witnesses is raised. He can now give his last statement.

The first chemical is sodium thiopental that being an anesthetic should create sleepiness.

The second chemical is pavulon or pancuronium bromide whose use is to paralyze all the muscles. At this point the person stop breathing.

The third chemical is potassium chloride that stops the heart.

The man dies of anesthetic overdose, respiratory and cardiac arrest.

Doctors are not allowed to participate in any execution for reasons of ethics that prohibits any doctors by harming his patients: "Primum est non nocere", a doctor will certify the decease.

Not everyone is of the opinion that death by lethal injection is painless - Dr. Edward Brunner, chairman of the Department of Anesthesia at North-western University Medical School, submitted an affidavit on behalf of death row inmates in Illinois in which he states that lethal injection "creates the substantial risk that prisoners will suffocate or suffer excruciating pain during the three chemical injections but will be prevented by the paralytic agent from communicating their distress."

April '97.....".....Texas newspapers recently reported a freakish accident. A lady, while hospitalized, was accidentally injected with one of the three poisons used to kill prisoners in the state's death chamber. The horrible way she died, convulsing in pain and screaming that she was burning, shocked the readers. Efforts have been made to convince the public that lethal injection is a painless and humane way to kill human beings. This news report forces us to rethink that view

"Lethal Injection is not humane nor "painless" as death penalty advocates claim. Potassium is a metallic inert chemical. Potassium chloride is the salt of potassium after it's reacted with hydrochloric acid. It's an essential mineral in small doses, ingested like eating bananas. It's essential to muscle tone and action. That's why people who become dehydrated from working in the sun too long have severe muscle cramps, because their electrolyte balance is thrown off by potassium loss. It's the first to go when one sweats profusely.

"In large doses, injected intravenously, it would burn and hurt horribly, because it's a salt and because it instantly throws off the chemical balance of the blood with which it comes into contact. It makes all muscles lock up in extreme contraction that would hurt unbearably. It wouldn't get to all muscles when a prisoner is being killed with it, however. Since the heart is a muscle and it pumps the blood -- the minute that massive dose of potassium salt hits the heart, one would be history and that would be as far as it would travel.

"In lethal injection, three chemicals are used to kill. First, sodium pentothal (its trade name) or thiopental sodium (its chemical name). Then one minute later they inject pavulon. One minute later the potassium chloride. Pentothal is a short acting barbituric acid (barbiturate used in anaesthesia) and is commonly called "truth serum" as it's used in narcoanalysis. It knocks one out. It's a hypnotic. Pavulon is a curare' derivative which locks up the lungs so one can't breathe.

"So, while the helpless man strapped to a gurney is knocked out by the thiopental and can't draw a breath because of the pavulon -- he certainly can't scream in pain when that burning potassium is injected and sends his heart into a crunching excruciating cramp.

"Ah, but the woman in the article didn't have any thiopental or pavulon beforehand. It hurt so bad she sat up in bed and screamed, seizured violently, then died. But she wasn't strapped down to a gurney, either. The inmates they're killing would scream too, IF they were able. They'd sit up and scream, IF they weren't strapped down and if their lungs weren't seized by pavulon. But they do gasp. Every one of them has. It's all they can do.

"'It looked as if he just went to sleep' -- that's how it's designed to look, to make it more palatable to the observers and those who're doing it. While it looks that way, it certainly isn't that way for the inmate they're killing. Looks are deceiving!

"All three of these drugs are acidic with pH higher than 6. God only knows what chemical reactions occur as they're mixed together in one's bloodstream. It probably burns so terribly that one feels as if he's being injected with fire right out of hell......"

Texas' Protocol on Execution by Lethal Injection

Texas adopted lethal injection as its sole method of execution in 1977. Texas performed its first execution by lethal injection in 1982 and its latest executions in 1997. Texas leads the nation in the number of executions it has performed in recent history, and has been on a record-setting pace this year (25 executions to date). The following is a partial description of Texas' protocol on execution by lethal injection.

Texas does not conduct a "mock" execution prior to each actual execution but execution security personnel conduct regular drills to ensure their ability to function as a team.

Texas does not employ a single executioner to perform an execution by lethal injection; it uses an injection team consisting of Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees who perform the execution without additional compensation and on a voluntary basis. These individuals are required to have sufficient medical knowledge to perform their required duties. There is no psychological evaluation to determine an employee's fitness for the team. Employees serve on the injection team until they resign or are replaced.

The execution facility consists of a separate building within the secure perimeter of the Huntsville Unit. It contains a four-room suite (consisting of a room where the injection team is located), the execution chamber, and two sight and sound-separated witness rooms. Immediately adjacent to these rooms and within the same building is a secure housing area with 10 holding cells where the prisoner is received from the Ellis Unit prior to the execution.

After clearances have been received from the governor and the attorney general, the condemned offender is escorted by five correctional officers from a holding cell to the execution chamber next door, where he is placed on a gurney and secured by leather straps located at the wrists, biceps, chest, stomach, and legs. The offender is not masked or hooded during the execution. The offender is permitted head movement so that he may turn his head to face witnesses (the media, his family, and the victim's family) when making a final statement.

Before any witnesses are brought into the execution facility, the microphone and speakers in each witness room are tested and the intravenous (IV) tubes are set up. Two administration sets are used, one for each arm. The line for the right arm is held in reserve as a contingency line in case of a malfunction or blockage in the first line. A flow of normal saline is begun. IV preparation is done by the injection team.

Witnesses are escorted into the witness room. The warden asks the offender if he has any last statement. Then, the procedure is initiated. The prisoner is given a sequence of three drugs using a manual process (instead of an injection machine). First, a lethal dose of sodium thiopental is administered which is supposed to initially render the offender unconscious. This takes approximately 30 seconds. After a saline flush, pancuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant, is administered to collapse the offender's diaphragm and lungs. This takes approximately 45 seconds. After a second saline flush, potassium chloride is administered to stop the offender's heart. This takes approximately 30 seconds. The administration of drugs takes less than two minutes.

Several minutes after the last signs of life are evident, the warden asks the physician to be brought in to pronounce death. The estimated average length of time that elapses from the time that the offender is restrained until the time that death is determined is 17 minutes.

Texas authorizes the following individuals to attend an execution: departmental staff deemed necessary by the executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice; members of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice; departmental chaplains and, if requested by the offender, a personal minister with appropriate credentials; the Walker County (Texas) judge and sheriff; a media pool consisting of one reporter from the Huntsville Item, a United Press International reporter, an Associated Press reporter, and one additional print media representative (typically from the offender's county of residence), and broadcast representative selected from rotating lists of applicants maintained by the department's public information office; not more than five (non-inmate) relatives or friends of the offender; not more than five close relatives of the deceased victim (if there are fewer than five close relatives, witnesses may include close relatives of a victim for whose death the offender has been convicted but not sentenced to death).

Staff members newly assigned to the execution function are required to attend a debriefing (facilitated by the department's Post-Trauma Staff Support Program) within 72 hours of their participation in their first execution. No formal debriefing is held for experienced execution staff members, though referrals to counselors are available.

Texas does not report if it has a written protocol on executions.

Lethal Injection: The medical technology of execution

Missouri lethal Injection protocol

Boycott of Companies producing the chemical used for L.I.




Fred A. Leuchter Associates, Inc.
231 Kennedy Drive
Unit 110
Boston, Massachusetts 02148
(617) 322-0104
FAX (617) 321-3306


The design of this Lethal Injection System has considered all applicable medical, mechanical and operational problems inherent in the lethal injection procedure and is the most reliable application of the lethal injection requirement.

The Fred A. Leuchter Associates, Inc. Modular Lethal Injection Machine is designed to sequentially deliver variable quantities of three solutions at variable time periods. Utilizing standard 60cc disposable syringes, it is essentially driven by weighted pistons depressing the syringe plungers. It is designed to sequentially deliver the solutions at time intervals controlled by an electrical, solid-state, timing system powered by a sealed battery which receives its charge from the power line. The system is designed to be activated by two executioners: a solid-state digital circuit will randomly determine which executioner controls the system, but will not retain the chosen executioner in memory. Since it operates from battery power, it is not subject to power line failure. Three electrical solenoids cause the weighted pistons to depress the respective syringe plungers. Chemical delivery is via a single intravenous line, commoned by an eight-port stainless steel manifold with luer lock entry ports. This line joins with a standard intravenous administration set dispensing saline solution on a continuous basis into the subject. Three solid state timers operate the solenoids and the stages are initiated by switch-controlled relays monitoring the volume of solution in each syringe.

In the event of a timing system failure, an electrical override is provided to control the solenoid operation. Two switches are used to control the depression of each successive plunger. Any one, or all three plungers, may be controlled, depending upon the problem encountered. The controlling switch group is preset during machine makeready. Thus, the system still functions as a one-of-two executioner controlled system. In the event of total electrical failure, or a partial mechanical failure of the Prime System, a second Back-up System, which is strictly mechanical, is employed.
This system consists of a redundant set of piston driven syringes and is operated by three sets of double pull knobs. Determination of which executioner will control the system is made during makeready. Both knobs of each set are pulled in tandem sequentially and the system operates as a one-of-two executioner system. The use of either back-up system requires that sequential timing between successive plunger actuations be determined by clock and command. All three systems have been engineered with a minimal amount of components for trouble free operation, and it is unlikely that a systems failure should occur in any of the three systems. However, should failure occur, the redundant systems should insure a problem-free execution.

Provision is made for systems purge via two saline filled syringes and an external saline supply is utilized to prevent coagulation at the needle tip, in the usual manner. The system is designed to accept eight 60cc syringes; two for saline, two for Pentathol, two for Pancuronium Bromide, and two for Potassium Chloride. Each of the six functional syringes has a positive piston stop pin to prevent premature operation of the system.

The system consists of two modules; The Control Module and The Delivery Module. The Control Module is made up of the power, sequential timing and control circuitry. The Delivery Module consists of the electro-mechanical and mechanical drive assemblies, syringes, and manifold, to ensure proper fluid delivery.

The Control Module is designed utilizing state-of-the-art, solid-state, power, digital and timing circuitry and conventional electrical switches. The on/off and function switches are key controlled to prevent accidental operation. The battery, power supply and charging circuit are also part of this package.

The Control Panel itself contains the Key-controlled on/off switch and two executioner switches (which are pushed simultaneously) for the prime system; the key-controlled function switch for the electrical back-up system (to determine which executioner activates the system) and six operating switches, arranged in three pairs, for the back-up system. These switches are thrown simultaneously by the executioners and control the sequential dispensing of the fluids, individually. Each pair is thrown simultaneously with the proper time interval between operations when the electrical back-up system is utilized.

There are two sets of monitoring lights, one on The Control Module and a redundant set on The Delivery Module. A system-on light indicates power on. Each syringe is monitored by a three light sequence. Red indicates Ready, Yellow indicates Operating and Green indicates Completion. The sequence occurs three times, once for each syringe. The Control Module shall be in The Control Room.

The Delivery Module consists of an eight inlet, one outlet stainless steel manifold containing two purge syringes filled with saline solution, two syringes filled with Sodium Pentathol, two syringes filled with Pancuronium Bromide, and two syringes filled with Potassium Chloride. The outlet is connected to a disposable intravenous administration set terminating in a needle tip and connected to a saline dispensing bag a short distance from the manifold.
Additional hardware includes the cylinder matrix for supporting the syringe assembly, three electrical solenoids, three solenoid pull rods, six mechanical pull knobs, six connecting cables, six weight stop pins, six weighted pistons, six cylinders, and nine indicator lights. A total of eight disposable 60cc syringes are utilized in the system.
During system makeready, all three solenoid pull rods are used, but only three of the six connecting cables, one for each set of two. The pull knobs are arranged in three pairs and both from each pair are pulled, one by each executioner, but only one from each pair is connected (either all odd or all even numbers). All manifold inlet connections are accomplished by luer lock fittings. Two purge syringe back flow stop brackets and twelve piston spaces are also part of The Delivery Module.

During makeready, the two saline syringes are used to bleed the system, the other syringes are installed, after filling, in the proper order, as assemblies, with the weighted piston, cylinder and piston stop pin. The cables are connected in the proper sequence and the solenoid pull rods inserted into the pistons. The Delivery Module shall be in the Execution Chamber.

It is suggested that the following procedure might be followed to facilitate a smooth execution. These dosages are established, although not recommended, through consultation with pharmaceutical manufacturers and actual executions. We at Fred A. Leuchter Associates, Inc., not being pharmacologists, do not recommend, or in any way guarantee the efficacy of these chemicals or dosages, but simply communicate the recommendations of the manufacturers.

1. Pre-injection 5cc Versed (Midazolam HCL 1 mg/ml) followed by 200 mg of Benadryl directly into the executee's saline iv. This should be followed with 5cc of Versed 5 minutes prior to the commencement of the execution. Versed is a tranquilizer and Benadryl, is an antihistimine to prevent spasm and choking.

2. Machine injection full syringe (45cc) Sodium Pentathol (double strength) delivered over a ten second time period. (5 grams/250ml, Abbott Labs #6108-01 mixed double strength).

3. One minute wait.

4. Machine injection full syringe (45cc) Pancuronium Bromide (Pavulon, Organon Drug Co., 2ml/2mg/ml) over a ten second time period.

5. One minute wait.

6. Machine injection full syringe (45cc) Potassium Chloride (KCl Injectable solution).

7. Two minute wait.

8. Execution over.

Times may be varied up to two and one half minutes by setting the timer in The Control Module.
Volumes to be dispensed may be varied by reducing the volumes in the syringe and utilizing the appropriate piston spacer.

Speeds of injection may be varied by using needles of different sizes. It is recommended not to exceed a twelve gauge. Fourteen gauge angiocaths are supplied.

The battery contains sufficient power at full charge to sustain operation for at least six usages of the system at fifteen minute time intervals before recharge is necessary. A uniform, slow-rate charge circuit, designed to guarantee a maximum battery life, will completely charge the battery over a 14 hour time period from 110 vac line power. The battery is a 12-volt 15-ampere hour battery.

Fred A. Leuchter Associates, Inc. assumes no liability for the intended or actual use of this device.


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