Death by Firing Squad not an Option for Condemned Man, Though Physician Calls it 'Painless'

A physician testifying as an expert in a condemned Nevada inmate's attempt to avoid execution by lethal injection told a federal judge Thursday that execution by firing squad would be quick and "relatively painless," the Associated Press reported.

Zane Michael Floyd, 46, was convicted in 2000 and sentenced to death for killing four and wounding a fifth person in a 1999 shotgun attack at a Las Vegas grocery store.

Floyd's lawyers are required to provide an alternative method of execution while asking U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware II to rule Nevada's lethal injection method unconstitutional. They argue the procedure and its novel drug combination would be an agonizing death.

Dr. James Williams, an emergency physician at a Texas hospital, told the judge that execution by firing squad would be "very quick."

"I don't believe the condemned would feel anything that would approximate pain," he said.

Currently, four states allow execution by firing squad: Mississippi, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Utah. The last inmate shot to death was Ronnie Gardner in Utah in June 2010.

Nevada law currently does not allow inmates to be shot to death. The method is not being considered for the state's first execution in 15 years.

The last person put to death in Nevada was Daryl Mack in 2006 for a 1988 rape and murder in Reno. He asked for his sentence to be carried out.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Execution Chamber, Ely State Prison, Nevada
A doctor testifies in a Nevada inmate’s bid to avoid execution by lethal injection, telling the court Thursday that a firing squad instead would be "very quick." This photo from 2016 shows the execution chamber at Ely State Prison in Ely, Nevada. Nevada Department of Corrections/AP Photo

Floyd's lethal injection was scheduled last July but has been delayed pending the outcome of his challenges in state and federal courts.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Randall Gilmer said Wednesday the state wants to carry out Floyd's execution by February, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

Floyd also has appeals pending before the Nevada Supreme Court and the 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

His lawyers, deputy federal public defenders David Anthony and Brad Levenson, have tried this week to show the procedure drawn up by Nevada prison officials and the combination of three or four drugs they want to use would be inhumane.

Dr. Mark Heath, an anesthesiologist who teaches at Columbia University in New York, provided a written report to the court predicting "an extremely agonizing ... death" with drugs used to sedate and paralyze Floyd before "the excruciating pain of intravenous concentrated potassium" is administered to stop his heart.

Testimony is scheduled in December from experts for the state, and Boulware said he especially wants to hear from Nevada prisons chief Charles Daniels, the official with primary responsibility for carrying out an execution.

Nevada would use the anesthetic ketamine, the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, the heart-stopping salt potassium chloride and perhaps a muscle paralytic called cisatracurium. The drug alfentanil might substitute for fentanyl and potassium acetate might substitute for potassium chloride, according to the execution plan.

No state has used ketamine or the fentanyl substitute in an execution, according to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center. Potassium acetate, a salt also used as an aircraft deicer, was mistakenly used by Oklahoma in a 2015 lethal injection.

Dr. Joel Zivot, an anesthesiologist who teaches at the medical and law schools at Emory University in Atlanta, testified Wednesday as an expert in Floyd's defense. He said some of the drugs and the doses could cause Floyd's lungs to fill with fluid, leading to an excruciating death by suffocation "akin to drowning."

Zivot said autopsies following other executions have found prisoners' lungs filled with fluid.