Botched execution #1: Brandon Rhode

on 10 October 2011


Brandon Rhode Sketch (cropped)

September 27th, 2010: Brandon Rhode is executed in Georgia with drugs supplied by British firm Dream Pharma. His eyes remain wide open. Doubts are raised over the way sodium thiopental was administered.

Dr Mark Heath declares in an affidavit: “If the thiopental was inadequately effective Mr. Rhode’s death would certainly have been agonizing,” he declared. “There is no dispute that the asphyxiation caused by pancuronium and the caustic burning sensation caused by potassium would be agonizing in the absence of adequate anesthesia.”

Brandon Rhode was just 18 years old when he participated in the crime for which he was ultimately executed: the shooting of three people during a burglary. Brandon was mentally handicapped; he had been drinking alcohol since the age of 11, and by 13 was abusing alcohol and drugs regularly. His biological father, with whom Brandon lived after dropping out of school at the age of 15, was also a drug addict and an alcoholic.

Brandon was executed in Georgia shortly after 10pm on Tuesday 28th September 2010. The execution had originally been scheduled for 7pm the previous Tuesday, but just hours before it was due to be carried out, Brandon attempted suicide by slashing his neck and arms, terrified of the painful death by lethal injection that awaited him. Although he was supposedly on suicide watch, a prison guard had provided him with a disposable razor and neglected to remove it from his cell.

His medical records show that Brandon’s self-inflicted wounds were so severe that he lost at least half the blood in his body and suffered haemorrhagic shock, but medical personnel managed to ‘save’ his life by repeatedly shocking his heart. He had caused such damage to the blood vessels in his arms that an IV had to be inserted into his neck. When Brandon was returned to prison, the IV port was left in place so that the lethal injection could be administered in the same site.

After his suicide attempt, Brandon was tightly restrained in a chair for seven days, bound at his chest, arms and legs and shackled. He was forced to spend almost 24 hours a day sitting upright in bright light and constant noise, permitted just ten minutes each day to walk around. When he needed to eat, one of his hands was released for five minutes. In an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court, Brandon’s attorney Brian Kammer stated that when he met with his client at this time, “Brandon indicated that he was in severe pain and discomfort amounting to torture”. He was cycling in and out of a dissociative state, and although he may well have suffered further brain damage as a result of his substantial blood loss, no neuropsychological testing was performed.

Despite the fact that, under the circumstances described, Brandon’s execution clearly constituted cruel and unusual punishment, he was not granted a second stay of execution in order for his mental competency to be properly assessed. Even more disturbingly, a witness to the execution testified that Brandon’s eyes remained open throughout the process, a clear sign that the anaesthetic sodium thiopental (the first of the three drugs administered in the lethal injection protocol) was not effective. For a crime he had committed as a teenager, and after having spent a third of his life on death row, it seems Brandon Rhode’s worst fears about dying in pain were realized.

Brandon's mother and brother have since testified to MPs and journalists at an evidentiary hearing in Parliament about the importance of stopping the export of lethal injection drugs from Britain.

To learn how healthcare professionals can help stop execution by lethal injection please contact Maya Foa.

Click here to return to World Day Against the Death Penalty: top five botched executions this year.

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