Forensic pathologist disputes cult killer’s claim

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Cult murderer Jeffrey Lundgren will not feel any more discomfort from the lethal chemical cocktail injected into his veins than any other inmate sentenced to death, Pittsburgh-based celebrity pathologist Cyril Wecht said.

“Without expressing any personal opinion on capital punishment, medically I know of no reason why (Lundgren’s) medical problems would cause any increased pain, stress or suffering than anyone else,” Wecht said.

Lundgren was granted a temporary reprieve from his scheduled execution Tuesday when a federal judge allowed him to join a lawsuit challenging Ohio’s use of lethal injection as a form of capital punishment.

The lawsuit, which originally was filed by the Ohio Public Defenders Office in 2004, challenges the constitutionality of Ohio’s lethal injection policy, according to a 2004 press release from the Ohio Public Defenders Office.

Lundgren claims his problems with obesity, diabetes and hypertension put him at a greater risk of experiencing “excruciating pain and suffering” in violation of his Eighth Amendment right to be exempted from cruel and unusual punishment, court documents show.

“If he had a twin that was exactly like him in every respect but did not have those three medical problems, the twin would suffer as much or as little as Mr. Lundgren,” Wecht said.

One of the most acclaimed forensic pathologists in the United States, Wecht has performed autopsies in the JonBenet Ramsey, Laci and Conner Peterson and the Waco, Texas, Branch Davidian cases. He recently performed an autopsy on David Smith, the son of model Anna Nicole Smith.

Wecht said incorrect chemical doses and improper administration of the drugs are the cause of any discomfort a doomed inmate may feel.

“It is incompetence that leads to real problems,” he said.

The lethal injection potion contains three key chemicals: sodium thiopental, which paralyzes the inmate and causes a state of unconsciousness while the other drugs take effect; pancuronium bromide, which stops muscle movements except those of the heart; and potassium chloride, which stops the heart from beating. Some inmates die from the pancuronium bromide, which can cause the diaphragm to collapse and result in death by asphyxiation, Wecht said.

“Inmates are not conscious when the lethal drugs are given,” Wecht said. “They experience no physical pain, and it is a very quick death,” he said.

Lundgren was convicted of having murdered Dennis and Cheryl Avery and their three young daughters in April 1989. The Averys were members of his religious cult. Lundgren led a small group of religious followers, and his cult relied on altered Mormon scriptures. The followers believed Lundgren was a prophet of Jesus Christ and that their faith in him would lead them to eternal glory at Christ’s second coming, which was near.

To illustrate his power and his devotion to performing God’s will, Lundgren accepted the Averys’ savings and credit cards, fed them a “last supper” and led the family into a Kirtland barn, where he bound, gagged and shot the couple, and then shot their children. With help, he buried the family members together, according to Lake County Common Pleas Court testimony given during Lundgren’s trial. The bodies of Dennis Avery, 49; his wife, Cheryl, 46; and their daughters, Trina, 15, Rebecca, 13 and Karen, 7, were found after members left the cult and alerted police.

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This post was last updated: Dec. 31, 2014