Florida stays execution of Manuel Valle due to cruelty concerns with new drug

July 26, 2011

Florida has stayed the execution of Manuel Valle to allow a hearing on whether the use of a new execution drug will cause him unnecessary pain, in violation of the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Mr Valle, a Cuban citizen with ties to Spain who has been on death row for more than three decades and is now being assisted by Reprieve’s EC Project, had been due to be executed a week today (August 2nd). However, in the wake of botched executions in other states using pentobarbital – which in Florida and much of the US has replaced the previously widely-used anaesthetic sodium thiopental – Florida’s Supreme Court decided on Monday to grant a stay.

Florida’s recent history has seen a number of botched executions, notably that of Angel Diaz in 2006 which resulted in then-Governor Jeb Bush suspending all executions and establishing a commission to look into the issue, leading to a two-year hiatus.

The recent execution of Roy Willard Blankenship in Georgia using pentobarbital was reminiscent of that of Mr Diaz – both men grimaced, struggled and appeared to be inadequately anaesthetised. Harvard anaesthesiologist Dr David Waisel has said that, judging by eyewitness accounts, Mr Blankenship was “inadequately anesthetized” and “suffered greatly”. He has warned that “Mr. Blankenship’s reaction to the pentobarbital injection may be indicative of other inmates’ reactions.”

As Mr Valle’s is set to be in Florida, Mr Blankenship’s execution was the first to be carried out in Georgia using pentobarbital. Concerns over excessive suffering as a result of the new drug have also seen legal challenges, stays, and even the videotaping of an execution in other states.

Reprieve’s EC Project, which is helping Mr Valle, identifies and assists prisoners with European connections who are facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve investigator Katherine Bekesi said: “Manuel Valle has already faced serious injustices. He has been denied proper clemency proceedings, and has been left to languish on death row for an astonishing 33 years.  Now he faces execution using the same drug which has resulted in terrible suffering for other prisoners. This stay of execution is welcome – it has to be hoped that Mr Valle will not now face the final injustice of an excruciating death.”

Notes to editors

1. Manuel Valle is a Cuban national with Spanish links, who has now been on death row for 33 years. He has been denied proper clemency proceedings, and (similarly to the recent case of Humberto Leal in Texas) did not receive the consular assistance to which he was entitled.

3. An eyewitness from the Associated Press has described the “thrashing, jerking death of Roy Willard Blankenship” during which “his eyes never closed”. The full text of Dr David Waisel’s affidavit on Roy Blankenship’s inadequate anaesthesia can be found on Reprieve’s website