Official reports of tranquil federal executions don’t match witness accounts: AP

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Federal officials responsible for the executions of 13 people in the final months of the Trump administration did not paint a full picture of the events in official descriptions, according to a report from The Associated Press.

Former President Trump’s administration announced in 2019 that it would resume federal executions, the first time in 17 years that executions would be conducted at the federal level. Prisoners would die by lethal injection of pentobarbital. 

Reports obtained by the wire service describing death row inmates’ final moments were sanitized, describing their gurneys as “beds” and their final moments as “snores” and did not mention instances where the inmate appeared to be in severe physical distress during the execution.

“During the entirety of the execution, [William] LeCroy did not appear to be in any sort of distress, discomfort, or pain,” wrote executioner Eric Williams in the documents. “A short time after he took a deep breath and snored, it appeared to me that LeCroy was in a deep, comfortable sleep.”

However, AP journalists who attended each of the 13 executions in-person said the official accounts differed greatly from the actual experience, in particular during the case of the September execution of LeCroy, 50.

Journalists for the news service said LeCroy heaved violently in a manner that suggested he may have suffered a pulmonary edema. Such a method of execution would be considered inhumane under law.

Reporters for the outlet also said that prisoners’ stomachs “shook and shuddered” as the pentobarbital was injected into their veins. 

The sworn accounts of the executions by executioners were used as evidence by the government to prove that the injections were going smoothly, according to the wire service.

The news outlet reports, however, that inconsistencies between the documents and the reporters’ accounts raise questions about whether the executioners did not report glitches to ensure expediency of the injections before President Biden’s administration took over. 

What appeared to be physical distress caused by the lethal injection was an area of focus for prisoners’ lawyers during litigation. They argued that the symptoms prisoners were experiencing were inhumane and amounted to “cruel and unusual” punishment. 

However, a judge ruled last year that the executions could go forward, citing conflicting statements over whether a pulmonary edema occurred during some federal executions.

In a court filing, a government expert who did not attend the executions relied on executioners’ statements to claim that journalists’ reports of seeing inmates’ chests heave during the process was actually hyperventilation due to stress.

“While the court continues to be concerned at the possibility that inmates will suffer excruciating pain during their executions,” Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled, the attorneys for those set to be executed “have not established that flash pulmonary edema is ‘certain’ or even ‘likely’ to occur before an inmate is rendered insensate.”

Tags Capital punishment death penalty Donald Trump Joe Biden

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