Ricky Gray's attorneys concerned execution caused pain and suffering

Updated: Jan. 19, 2017 at 11:39 AM EST
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Attorneys for a convicted murderer are questioning whether his execution in Virginia on Wednesday violated his constitutional rights.

Ricky Gray was pronounced dead at 9:42 p.m. following a lethal injection of drugs from a secret compounding pharmacy. The Virginia Department of Corrections said the death was delayed due to trouble finding a vein. However, the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center representing Gray said they have grave concerns the execution caused pain and suffering.

The majority of the execution proceedings took place behind a blue curtain, which is standard procedure. However, attorneys took issue over the length of time the curtain was closed. Attorneys for Gray called the 33 minutes "longer than typical" and said the VDOC's explanation was not plausible.

"Mr. Gray had reported to us that VDOC staff examined his body, particularly inspecting his veins, multiple times over the days leading up to the execution," attorneys for Gray said in a statement. "He was a healthy, 39-year-old man, and did not have any medical condition or history (such as intravenous drug use) that would indicate potential problems."

The execution was just the second in the U.S. this year and the first where the state is using lethal injection drugs from a secret compounding pharmacy. Virginia used a combination of midazolam, potassium chloride and the paralytic drug, rocuronium bromide, according to CNN. Midazolam has been used successfully in other states, however, there are concerns the drug has also been involved in botched executions, including as recently as last month in Alabama.

Witnesses described Gray's breathing as labored, including what sounded like gasping and snoring. They also said he turned his head side to side. While VDOC officials say the process did not cause any suffering, attorneys for Gray believe these may have been signs he was in pain.

"It could be further evidence of his body's desperate reaction to suffocation, or it could indicate that he was roused to consciousness by the introduction of a "noxious stimuli" - the second drug paralytic, rocuronium bromide," attorneys said. "Mr. Gray's head movement would have stopped as soon as the paralytic took effect even if he remained conscious. If Mr. Gray were conscious during the administration of either of the second two drugs, he would have suffered excruciating pain."

Gray's attorneys also believe the execution did not go as planned because a physician was using a stethoscope to check for a heartbeat. They say that is an act they had not witnessed in any previous execution, as a heart monitor is normally used to determine and declare death.

"The circumstances surrounding Mr. Gray's lethal injection last night raise significant questions about the VDOC's protocol and demonstrate the need for careful scrutiny and open government, and for the VDOC to be held accountable for its decisions surrounding lethal injection and execution protocols," said Gray's attorneys.

Gray chose not to offer any final words and refused a final meal. His family, who asked for privacy, participated in an anti-death penalty vigil with members of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and the public.

About 10 other people gathered across the street, some of them holding signs suggesting Gray deserves the death penalty because of the young lives lost.

On New Year's Day 2006, Gray and Ray Dandridge walked into the Harveys' home through the unlocked front door and tied the family up in the basement. Gray stabbed and beat Bryan and Kathryn and their daughters, 9-year-old Stella and 4-year-old Ruby, to death and then set the house on fire.

The pair would murder their accomplice, Ashley Baskerville, days later along with her parents Mary Baskerville-Tucker and Percyell Tucker. They were arrested on Jan. 7, 2006 in Philadelphia.

Gray was found guilty of Harvey the killings, but over the past decade, his attorneys have exhausted several appeals arguing Gray was on PCP at the time of the crime, an addiction caused by sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of a family member.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe was asked to step in to prevent the execution. He said that's something he wouldn't do after Gray was convicted and sentenced to death following a "fair and impartial trial."

A last-minute request to the U.S. Supreme Court was also denied Wednesday.


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