Thursday, December 21, 2006

December 13, 2006

...Lethal injections normally take about 15 minutes, Diaz's execution took 34 minutes...

Last Meal: Diaz had no final meal request. He was served the prison menu of shredded turkey with taco seasoning, shredded cheese, rice, pinto beans, tortilla shells, apple crisp and ice tea, which he turned down.

The skinny: Diaz was sentenced to die for the murder of a strip club manager who was shot with a silencer-equipped gun when Diaz and two accomplices robbed the Velvet Swing club.

More skinny: Diaz, the self-styled ''Daddy of Death'' for the Machete Men Puerto Rican terror gang who was implicated in at least three murders and two brutal prison breaks.

No one actually witnessed the shooting death of the manager. But to cops and prosecutors it doesn't really matter whether Diaz actually pulled the trigger or he was merely one of the thugs who corralled patrons and dancers into a bathroom jammed shut with a cigarette machine. A dancer hiding under the bar did not see who fired the shoots which killed Nagy. The case remained unsolved for four years until 1983, when Nieves' girlfriend told police he was involved in the crimes. Angel "Sammy" Toro and Angel Nieves were charged with murder. A third man, "Willie," was never identified.

At his trial, Nieves conducted his own defense, with the assistance of counsel. Toro cut a deal with prosecutors and was sentenced to life in prison. The conviction was largely based on the testimony of a jailhouse informant, Ralph Gajus, who claimed the Spanish-speaking Diaz mimed a confession. The jury recommended he be sentenced to death by an 8-4 vote.

However, Gajus, recently recanted his testimony, saying he lied on the witness stand in 1984 because he was angry with Diaz. Gajus was serving a 20-year sentence for second-degree murder.

Jailhouse informants are the leading cause of wrongful convictions in U.S. capital cases, according to a report by the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University. The report found that 51 death row inmates have been exonerated who were initially convicted on the word of jailhouse informants.

Priors: Nieves' prior record includes a second-degree murder conviction in his native Puerto Rico and escapes there and in Connecticut. In 1981, he escaped from the Hartford Correctional Center by holding one guard at knifepoint while another was beaten as he and three other inmates escaped.

The day of: Diaz spent part of his final day with family members. He later met with a prison chaplain and received last rights by a Roman Catholic priest shortly before his execution. He asked that his body be sent to Puerto Rico for funeral services. Puerto Rican Gov. Acevedo Vila had asked Gov. Jeb Bush to stop the execution. The U.S. territory abolished the death penalty in 1929.

Family members aren't allowed to witness executions, so they assembled with protesters in the pasture across the street from the prison. Relatives cried out in grief during the protests, and two passed out from what a relative said was anxiety.

Last words and such: ''The state of Florida is killing an innocent person." Diaz said from the gurney on Death Row. "The state of Florida is committing a crime, because I am innocent. The death penalty is not only a form of vengeance, but also a cowardly act by humans. I'm sorry for what is happening to me and my family who have been put through this.''

34-minutes: Diaz's execution took 34 minutes and two doses of lethal drugs. During the long execution at Diaz squinted his eyes, flexed his jaw, moved his mouth and grimaced. His movements did not stop early in the process.

Lethal injections normally take about 15 minutes, with the inmate rendered unconscious within the first three to five minutes. Prison officials said afterward that Diaz had liver disease that slowed the effects of the drugs, so they needed to use two doses.

Florida lawmakers voted to switch to lethal injection in 2000 following a series of bungled executions using the state's electric chair, known as "Old Sparky." In the most notorious incident, flames shot from the head of a prisoner during an execution in 1997.

The aftermath: A report concluded that the prolonged execution of Diaz was apparently caused by intravenous needles that pierced completely through veins in both arms.

Dr. William Hamilton, a 25-year veteran medial examiner who performed an autopsy on Diaz, said the errant intravenous needles drained the lethal cocktail of drugs into Diaz's flesh rather than his veins. The concoction should have been pumped into Diaz's bloodstream, where it would have circulated throughout his body faster and would have worked much more quickly. The misdirected chemicals were injected near his elbows and by the time the autopsy was conducted, Hamilton said he found chemical burns about a foot long on both of Diaz's arms.

Gov. Bush announced a moratorium on executions until at least March, 2007 to allow a specially appointed panel to study the Diaz case and other issues surrounding lethal executions.

Factoids: Diaz was the....

53rd murderer executed in U.S. in 2006
1057th murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
4th murderer executed in Florida in 2006
64th murderer executed in Florida since 1976

Diaz was the 21st inmate executed during the governorship of Jeb Bush.

374 people remain on Florida's Death Row.