Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lethal Injection Draws Criticism Anti-Death Penalty Foe Upset That Killer's Vein Was Hard to Find

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lethal Injection Draws Criticism Anti-Death Penalty Foe Upset That Killer's Vein Was Hard to Find

Article excerpt

Byline: Doug Gross, Times-Union staff writer

ATLANTA -- One of the most famous and feared icons of Georgia justice disappeared last month when the state Supreme Court outlawed the electric chair.

Anti-death penalty groups, who called the chair barbaric and cruel, cheered the decision.

But the ruling may have had some unintended results. Georgia, which had not put an inmate to death by electrocution since 1998, has executed two convicted murderers by lethal injection in the weeks following the Oct. 5 ruling and has scheduled a third execution for later this month.

"That was the bittersweet part of the victory," said Michael Mears, who represents Death Row inmates as an attorney in Georgia's Multi-County Public Defender's office.

Opponents of the death penalty have now shifted their arguments. Gruesome stories of inmates being bloodied and burned by electricity have been replaced with tales of injections they believe still amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

But prison officials, who replaced the electric chair at the state prison in Jackson with a gurney days after the Supreme Court's 4-3 split decision, call the new method an improvement.

"There is some sense that this is a much quicker and more clinical procedure than the previous method," said state Department of Corrections spokesman Mike Light. "It's something that's hard to put your finger on, but there's a certain something in the air when an execution goes off.

"There is now, from my viewpoint, a more reduced level of stress."

Currently, 125 men and one woman are on Death Row in Georgia. Twenty-four inmates have been executed in Georgia since 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty after outlawing it for nine years.

The electric chair had been the state's only legal method of execution since 1924.

After only two lethal injections, opponents in the state say they've already seen enough to challenge the practice.

During Tuesday's execution of Jose Martinez High, whose Augusta gang murdered an 11-year-old boy during a bloody crime spree in 1976, prison technicians took about 20 minutes trying unsuccessfully to find a vein in his arms for the injection.

A doctor eventually cut an incision in High's chest. One needle was inserted there, another in the back of one of his hands.

"I don't see how anybody can think that was peacefully putting someone to sleep," said Laura Moye, Georgia spokeswoman for the human rights group Amnesty International. "If you're going to kill somebody, you have to accept that you can't do it in a nice, clean-cut way all the time."

Mears said Georgia prison staffers didn't have enough time to be properly trained before performing lethal injections on inmate Terry Mincey, who died Oct. …

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