BOISE, Idaho (AP) – The six correctional officers, wearing surgical masks and stationed three to a side like pallbearers, lifted the inmate off the gurney and strapped him to the execution table inside the Idaho state prison on Tuesday.
Others attached intravenous lines to Richard Leavitt’s arms and electrodes to the convicted killer’s chest and stomach to measure his breathing and heart rate.
A week ago, no one aside from the prison officials would have seen the state’s lethal injection process in its entirety. But a federal judge ordered it open, siding with more than a dozen Idaho news groups, including The Associated Press, who sued in federal court for access.
Those first steps _ including the insertion of the IV lines that deliver the lethal chemicals _ have become increasingly controversial in recent years as opponents question the efficacy of the lethal drug cocktail and the training of the execution team.
Proponents counter that lethal injection is a painless and efficient way to put someone to death.
Four media witnesses watched as the 53-year-old Leavitt was wheeled, strapped to a backboard on a gurney, into the death chamber. They watched as Leavitt was moved to the table and as three members of a medical team inserted IVs into his arms.
The inmate spoke with them, though witnesses could not hear the exchanges.
They used a blood pressure cuff to enlarge the veins in his elbows, starting with the right, then the left. They cleaned his arms repeatedly with alcohol wipes to prevent infection _ in case the execution was called off at the last minute.
A member of the team prodded the inside of Leavitt’s arm, feeling for veins. After a moment, he slipped in the needle, sliding the thin plastic catheter that would deliver the lethal chemicals. The process was repeated on the other side.
The team leader placed a hand over the inside of his own elbow, and bent his arm back and forth, to let the executioners watching from another room that Leavitt was ready for the fatal dose of pentobarbital.
Leavitt declined to make a final statement and did not ask to see a spiritual adviser before his execution. He was pronounced dead at 10:25 a.m.
Media groups had argued that Idaho’s practice of hiding this first half of lethal injection executions from view violated the First Amendment rights of the public. Brent Reinke, the state’s prisons chief, said his agency and its execution team made adjustments to comply with the federal court order to open the process.
“I am happy with how this turned out today,” said Brent Reinke, the state’s prisons chief, during a press conference.
“I am grateful that we have four media witnesses here to tell you what they saw. Our goal was to make this as professional as possible with dignity and respect, and I believe we met that mark.”
Leavitt was convicted in 1985 for stabbing and mutilating 31-year-old Danette Elg. Prosecutors said Leavitt stabbed her repeatedly with exceptional force, and then cut out her sexual organs.
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected his last-minute request to stay the execution, which cleared the way for Idaho to put to death its second inmate in 17 years. In November, Paul Ezra Rhoades died by lethal injection for his role in the slaying of three people in eastern Idaho.
Leavitt had maintained his innocence, but former U.S. Attorney Tom Moss noted that several judges examined Leavitt’s case during multiple appeals and none found a reason to justify overturning his death sentence.
“Justice was done today,” said Moss, who prosecuted the case when he served as Bingham County attorney.
AP reporter Todd Dvorak contributed to this story.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)