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Execution of Florida Man for Topless Bar Murder That Took 34 Minutes Sparks Criticism

Death penalty opponents criticized the execution of a convicted murderer who took more than half an hour to die and needed a rare second dose of lethal chemicals.

Angel Nieves Diaz, 55, convicted of murdering a Miami topless bar manager 27 years ago, appeared to grimace before dying Wednesday, 34 minutes after the first dose.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said she doesn't believe Diaz felt any pain and had liver disease, which required the second dose.

"It was not unanticipated. The metabolism of the drugs to the liver is slowed," Plessinger said.

Diaz's cousin Maria Otero said the family had never heard he suffered from liver disease.

"Why a stupid second dose?" Otero said.

Gov. Jeb Bush said the Department of Corrections followed all protocols.

"A preexisting medical condition of the inmate was the reason tonight's procedure took longer than recent procedures carried out this year," the governor said in a news release.

A spokesman for Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, called Diaz's death a botched execution.

"They had to execute him twice," Mark Elliot said. "If Floridians could witness the pain and the agony of the executed man's family, they would end the death penalty."

In most Florida executions, the prisoner loses consciousness almost immediately and stops moving within three-to-five minutes. Two doctors watching a heart monitor then wait for it to show a flat line. They then inspect the body and pronounce death. The whole process happens within 15 minutes.

Plessinger said Thursday that prison officials told her a second dose had been used before on an inmate, but they did not know when. The state has never announced publicly that the extra chemicals were needed. Until a revised protocol came out in August, prison officials did not keep records on events in lethal injections.

Diaz's final appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court challenged the chemicals used in the state's procedure, saying they constitute cruel and unusual punishment. His appeals were rejected about an hour before his execution began.

Attorneys for him and other condemned inmates have been unsuccessfully challenging Florida's three-chemical method, saying it results in extreme pain that an inmate cannot express because one of the drugs is a paralyzing agent.

Moments before his execution, Diaz again denied killing Joseph Nagy during a robbery at the Velvet Swing Lounge. There were no eyewitnesses to Nagy's Dec. 29, 1979, murder. Most of the club's employees and patrons were locked in a restroom, but Diaz's girlfriend told police he was involved.

The governor of Diaz's native Puerto Rico sought clemency for him. Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, abolished capital punishment in 1929.