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Death Penalty Information

Friday, November 16, 2007

USA: Barred doctor helps in executions
Doctor barred by Missouri helps in federal executions
A judge cites the physician's dyslexia in banning him from participation in
state lethal injections. His role has been cited in several death penalty
By Henry Weinstein, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
A doctor who was barred from taking part in executions in Missouri because
of concerns his dyslexia would interfere with his ability to administer
lethal injections is helping the federal government carry out death
sentences in Indiana, according to court documents.
The physician has been the target of more than 20 malpractice suits, was
barred from practicing at two hospitals and was publicly reprimanded by a
state agency for failing to disclose those suits to a hospital where he
treated patients, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The newspaper
identified the doctor as Alan R. Doerhoff of Jefferson City, Mo.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Fernando J. Gaitan Jr. of Kansas City, Mo.,
banned Doerhoff from participating "in any manner, at any level" in lethal
injections in Missouri.
The judge said earlier he was "gravely concerned" that the doctor
responsible for "mixing the drugs which will be responsible for humanely
ending the life of condemned inmates, has a condition [dyslexia] which
causes him confusion with regard to numbers."
Federal officials, however, have made Doerhoff part of the execution team at
the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., according to court papers filed on
behalf of several inmates there. All condemned federal prisoners are
executed at that prison.
Among those executed there was Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh.
Doerhoff's role is to place intravenous lines in condemned inmates, monitor
their levels of consciousness and sign death certificates, according to the
Doerhoff did not respond to requests for comment, and Justice Department
spokesman Erik Ablin declined to comment.
Traci Billingsley, U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman, said the agency does
not comment on pending litigation and does not make public the names of
staff involved in lethal injections.
Washington attorney Paul F. Enzinna, one of the Indiana inmates' lawyers,
also declined to comment.
Doerhoff's role in federal executions emerged in one of several challenges
to lethal injection filed in courts around the country.
Thirty-seven states and the federal government use a three-drug cocktail to
execute prisoners: the fast-acting sedative thiopental, a paralyzing drug
and a heart-stopping drug.
Although ostensibly more humane than prior execution methods, lethal
injection is often performed by untrained, unqualified prison employees
using inadequate equipment, creating an unnecessary risk of excessive pain
in violation of the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the
suits allege.
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a challenge to Kentucky's executions
by lethal injection on Jan. 7.
During the court challenges, officials have cloaked Doerhoff's identity in
extraordinary secrecy. In the Missouri case, he was referred to as "John Doe
One" and allowed to sit behind a screen during a deposition so that lawyers
for condemned inmate Michael Taylor could not see him being questioned.
In the latest challenge, Roane vs. Gonzales, filed in Washington, the
inmates' lawyers refer to Doerhoff as "Protected Person No. 2." About a
dozen lines in the October brief were redacted.
Doerhoff was cited as "Dr. Doe" in a friend-of-the-court brief filed Tuesday
in the lethal injection challenge before the Supreme Court.
"The most well-known example of a jurisdiction entrusting its execution
administration to an incompetent individual is the infamous 'Dr. Doe' in
Missouri," says a brief written by lawyers from the death penalty clinic at
UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law.
The brief contends that even though Doerhoff had played a key role in more
than 50 executions, he had not followed written instructions but
instead "varied the amount of thiopental he gave inmates on a whim, without
informing anyone."
The Missouri doctor also said that he had cut the thiopental dosage he gave
inmates by half because a change in drug packaging forced him
to "improvise," the brief said.
"The federal government chose to rely upon the only person in the country
who has been explicitly barred by a federal court from participating in
lethal injection executions," said the brief, written under the supervision
of Tyler L. Alper, associate director of the death penalty clinic.
Fordham University law professor Deborah Denno, an expert on capital
punishment methods who is closely following the challenges to lethal
injection, said that Gaitan, an appointee of President Reagan, issued his
order after "a thorough and detailed examination of Dr. Doerhoff's shocking
lack of knowledge of the basic tenets of the drugs and procedures involved
in a lethal injection execution, Dr. Doerhoff's admitted challenges with
dyslexia that affected his ability to mix and measure the drugs, as well as
his record of more than 20 malpractice suits and revoked privileges at two
Denno said the revelations about Doerhoff illustrated "the need for
transparency in the identity of executioners" so that their records could be
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