As Georgia prepares to carry out another execution Wednesday, documents and eyewitness accounts show the state has struggled recently in setting the IV to administer lethal drugs.
In each of the state’s past two executions, the executioners took nearly an hour to set the IV in the inmate, according to timelines kept by corrections employees obtained by BuzzFeed News. Those timelines show the executioners made several unsuccessful attempts at setting the line, switching to and from different arms, and in one case resorting to the groin area.
In December, the state took 54 minutes to set the IV lines into Bryan Keith Terrell. After several attempts, the executioners were eventually able to get access in his arms.
And in the execution of Brandon Jones two weeks ago, members of the IV team spent 24 minutes trying to get an IV into Jones’ left arm. They were ultimately unsuccessful, so they tried to set another line in his right arm. They spent 8 minutes on his right arm before going back to his left for one more attempt. It didn’t work, again.
The IV team eventually had to call for the help of a doctor who was present to monitor the inmate’s vital signs during the execution. The doctor spent 13 minutes setting an IV near Jones’ groin, which the state’s execution protocol says is a last result if lines in the arm are not possible.
Afterward, one press witness noted that Jones “fought death” and that “his eyes popped open” six minutes after the warden left the room. According to a handwritten timeline from a corrections employee, pentobarbital would have already been flowing into him by this time.
Handwritten notes show that the doctor stitched the catheter near the inmate’s groin. The typed version of the employee’s notes leaves that detail out.
The doctor also did not use an ultrasound to help set the femoral line in the Jones execution. Typically an ultrasound is used to help set femoral lines. An expert referred to using an ultrasound as “industry standard” for femoral lines in a separate case on execution methods.
The notes say that the femoral line — the line set near Jones’ groin — was originally intended to be the line used to administer the lethal drugs. But just minutes before the execution, that decision was changed.
“Physicians discretion” is all spokesperson Gwendolyn Hogan would say when asked why the last-minute switch occurred.
A femoral line is the back-up plan in Georgia’s procedures because it is significantly more painful to set, more difficult to do, and can lead to problems in executions.
Executioners in Oklahoma attempted to use a femoral line in Clayton Lockett’s botched 2014 execution. They covered up the IV site with a sheet to “protect his dignity.” The sheet allowed problems happening under the cover to go unnoticed before it was too late. By the time officials noticed, the area near Lockett’s groin had near tennis-ball sized swelling and had clear liquid and blood around the IV site. A state investigation found the sheet allowed the problem to go unnoticed.
Notes from the Georgia execution also point out a sheet was placed over the site of the femoral line. Corrections spokesperson Gwendolyn Hogan told BuzzFeed News that the site was visible to executioners throughout the process.
Georgia has withheld other details about the Jones execution. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said it could not turn over some records due to “an investigation that is currently open.”
The Georgia Department of Corrections also refused to turn over some emails to BuzzFeed News, saying the records were exempt under a statute that protects “investigation reports and intelligence data prepared by the Internal Investigations Unit.”
However, the Georgia Department of Corrections insists there was no investigation or review into the Jones execution.
“Again, there was not an investigation,” Hogan said. “Information was gathered by the Intelligence Unit and that information is protected by the above statute.”