Executed man’s lawyers raise concerns about lethal injection

An ambulance exits the secure area after the execution of Ricky Gray at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Va., Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. Gray who was convicted of killing a couple and their two young daughters in their Virginia home on New Year's Day 2006 was put to death Wednesday. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Attorneys for a convicted killer executed in Virginia for the brutal killings of a family in 2006 said Thursday that they are concerned that his lethal injection caused a painful death.

Ricky Gray was pronounced dead at 9:42 p.m. Wednesday after receiving a three-drug injection for the slayings of 9-year-old Stella Harvey and her 4-year-old sister, Ruby. Gray killed the girls along with their parents, Bryan and Kathryn Harvey, at their Richmond home while the family was preparing to host a New Year’s party.

The process of inserting an IV into Gray — which neither the public nor Gray’s attorneys witnessed — took more than 30 minutes, which is longer than usual. Lisa Kinney, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Corrections, attributed the delay to difficulty finding a vein for the IV.

But Gray’s attorneys said Thursday they didn’t find that to be a “plausible explanation.” They also questioned whether Gray was fully unconscious when the second or third drugs were injected, noting that his head moved side to side after the so-called “pinch test.”

“If Mr. Gray were conscious during the administration of either of the second two drugs, he would have suffered excruciating pain,” his attorneys — Rob Lee, Jonathan Sheldon and Elizabeth Peiffer — said in a statement. They added that the circumstances around his execution raise “significant questions” about Virginia’s lethal injection protocol.

Kinney did not immediately respond to phone and email messages seeking comment about the attorneys’ concerns.

The 39-year-old inmate was put to death with the sedative midazolam, followed by rocuronium bromide to halt breathing, and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. Virginia obtained the midazolam and potassium chloride from a compounding pharmacy, whose identity is shielded from the public under Virginia law.

Gray’s attorneys had argued that the drugs would cause him pain and suffering because midazolam cannot reliably render someone unconscious. They also argued that the state’s plans to use compounded drugs magnified the risk of problems because compounding pharmacies are not as heavily regulated as traditional pharmacies.

Gray was brought into the execution chamber at 8:52 p.m. and a curtain was closed, shielding the public’s view while officials placed an IV line and heart monitors. The curtain remained closed for 33 minutes before it was opened and the injection began. Gray’s lawyers and other witnesses present for the execution said 33 minutes was unusually long.

During Virginia’s last execution, the process took just under 15 minutes.

Gray’s attorneys said prison staff had inspected his body and veins prior to the execution. He did not have a history of intravenous drug use or anything else that could have caused a problem, they said.

Once the execution began, Gray appeared to breathe heavily for several minutes. At 9:32, an official took off his shoes and touched Gray to ensure he was unconscious before injecting the second drug. Shortly afterward, Gray’s head moved from side to side before he stopped moving.

Gray’s attorneys said they are concerned his head movement may suggest that he was roused to consciousness by the second drug, which would have caused him to suffer “excruciating pain.”

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