Unlike some other states, Virginia holds its death chamber protocols very close to the vest, refusing to release them except under the most limited circumstances, and then only when compelled by a federal judge.
But some of the contents of the state's executioner's manual have been allowed to leak into the daylight via court proceedings, interviews and firsthand observations.
The following is a limited reconstruction of how executions are to proceed in Virginia, based on those sources that have become public:
• Up to two weeks before the execution
Prisoners are removed from death row at Sussex I and driven the 30 or so miles to the death house at Jarratt.
• About 8:30 p.m., execution day
The condemned is led from his cell to a shower, where he cleans up and
• About 8:50 p.m.
The condemned inmate is led in restraints to the execution chamber, where he is seated on the execution gurney, then placed on his back. Guards then strap the inmate down
at various points.
• Immediately thereafter
A curtain dividing the witnesses from the prisoner is drawn, and the execution team starts two IVs, ideally one in each arm, for the purposes of administering the lethal chemicals.
Once the IVs are started and executioners have made certain that the restraints do not interfere with the flow of fluid from the IVs into the body, the team retreats behind a second blue curtain.
It is from behind this second curtain that the execution team administers the lethal chemicals into the IV and watches a heart monitor previously attached.
The first curtain is re-opened.
• About 8:59 p.m.
The warden asks if the inmate has any final words.
• 9:01 p.m.
Following a final signal from a second prison official -- on the phone with the governor's office for the duration of the execution -- that no reprieve is forthcoming, the execution team behind the curtain begins to administer the lethal does of chemicals.
First, a dose of 2 grams of sodium thiopental anesthetic is pushed through the lines, quickly inducing unconsciousness, with most inmates "snoring" after about a minute.
The lines are then flushed with saline solution, and a dose of 50 milligrams of pancuronium bromide is injected into the lines, paralyzing the inmate and hastening suffocation.
Executioners then flush the lines again, and inject the fatal dose of potassium chloride, which stops the heart in most cases within a minute or so.
• About 9:11 p.m.
If a heart monitor does not indicate a "flatline," a second dose of the two lethal chemicals are then injected via the second IV.
Once the heart monitor does show a flat line, the curtain is closed again and a physician examines the body and pronounces death.
-- Sources: Emmett v. Johnson, various filings, U.S. District Court opinion, U.S. Supreme Court briefs; "Virginia execution is smooth and clinical," by Alan Elsner, Reuters 1997; "Cruel and Unusual Punishment," by Jeff Sparrow, Sydney Morning
Herald, January 2008; Bell v. Kelly, various filings, U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Court of Appeals and U.S. District court; Tennessee Riverbend Maximum Security Prison Execution
Manual, revised April 30, 2007.