Death Penalty

Witness accounts of federal executions are at odds with government reports on tranquil deaths

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Executioners who put 13 federal inmates to death during the Trump administration described tranquil last moments in which inmates appeared to be sleeping.

But accounts by Associated Press witnesses and other media representatives said that, in at least half of the executions, inmates’ stomachs rolled and heaved, the AP reports.

Journalists weren’t allowed to hear audio of the executions, and they weren’t given access to medical records showing when death happened or when brain waves stopped.

But lawyers for death-row inmates said the eyewitness accounts indicate that the inmates might have endured flash pulmonary edema. The condition happens when fluid blocks airways, leading to a drowning sensation.

The inmates were executed with just one drug, pentobarbital, after manufacturers were no longer willing to provide the drug cocktails used in executions.

The government sought to counter journalists’ accounts with a government expert who didn’t witness the executions. The expert said in an Oct. 8 court filing the reporters were likely seeing the inmates hyperventilate because of anxiety.

NPR reported in September on a review of more than 200 autopsies conducted on executed inmates. The review found signs of pulmonary edema in 84% of the cases. The findings were similar even when different drugs were used in the executions.

The review was conducted after doctors reviewing autopsy reports on executed inmates in 2016 noticed that the lungs were too heavy, indicating that the lungs had filled with fluids.

The issue is being litigated in cases of death-row inmates. In a Sept. 20 decision, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan of Washington, D.C., ruled against federal inmates, citing conflicting evidence.

Hat tip to How Appealing.

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