Death Row Inmate Sues, Claiming He's Too Fat for Execution

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A death row inmate scheduled for execution in October says he's so fat that Ohio executioners would have trouble finding his veins and that his weight could diminish the effectiveness of one of the lethal injection drugs.

Lawyers for Richard Cooey argue in a federal lawsuit that Cooey had poor veins when he faced execution five years ago and that the problem has been worsened by weight gain.

They cite a document filed by a prison nurse in 2003 that said Cooey had sparse veins and that executioners would need extra time.

"When you start the IV's come 15 minutes early," wrote the nurse who examined Cooey. "I don't have any veins."

The lawsuit, filed Friday in federal court in Columbus, also says prison officials have had difficulty drawing blood from Cooey for medical procedures. Cooey is 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighs 267 pounds, according to the lawsuit.

Cooey, 41, was sentenced to die for raping and murdering two female University of Akron students in 1986. After a federal judge granted Cooey a last-minute reprieve in 2003, Cooey was returned to death row. In April, he lost a challenge to Ohio's lethal injection process when the U.S. Supreme Court said he had missed a deadline to file a lawsuit.

Cooey's execution is scheduled for Oct. 14. He would be the first inmate put to death in Ohio since Christopher Newton was executed last year for killing a prison cellmate over their chess games.

It would also be the first execution in Ohio since the end of an unofficial national moratorium on executions that began l injection procedure.

Since the court upheld the procedure in April, 16 inmates have been executed around the country.

Attorneys for Cooey in his latest lawsuit say a drug he is taking for migraine headaches could diminish the effectiveness of the first of three drugs Ohio uses in its execution process.

Cooey's use of the drug Topamax, a type of seizure medication, may have created a resistance to thiopental, the drug used to put inmates to sleep before two other lethal drugs are administered, Dr. Mark Heath, a physician hired by the Ohio Public Defender's Office, said in documents filed with the court.

Heath also says Cooey's weight, combined with the potential drug resistance, increases the risk he would not be properly anesthetized.

That's a real concern for Cooey, his public defender, Kelly Culshaw Schneider, said Monday.

"All of the experts agree if the first drug doesn't work, the execution is going to be excruciating," she said.

She said the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has not indicated how they would deal with Cooey's vein problems.

Prisons system spokeswoman Andrea Carson and Jim Gravelle, a spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General's Office, both said Monday they hadn't seen the lawsuit and couldn't comment.

Last year, Carson cited the obesity of Newton as one of the reasons prison officials had difficulty accessing his veins before his May 24 execution. Newton was 6 feet, 265 pounds.

Two years ago, convicted killer Jeffrey Lundgren argued unsuccessfully that he was at greater risk of experiencing pain and suffering because he was overweight and diabetic.

A federal appeals court rejected the claim by Lundgren, convicted of killing a family of five in an eastern Ohio cult killing. He was executed in October 2006.

In 1999, lawyers for Florida condemned killer Allen Davis, who weighed 350 pounds, argued the voltage in the electric chair fell short of the amount needed to kill painlessly, especially for a man the size of Allen.

During Allen's execution, blood poured from his face in what officials said was a nosebleed that happened after he died.