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Federal Lawsuit Challenges Texas Death Penalty

Federal Lawsuit Challenges Texas Death Penalty

Three condemned inmates on Death Row in Texas claim that by not revealing to the public the drugs the state uses in its lethal injection process, the state is essentially 'experimenting' on prison inmates, 1200 WOAI news reports.

 

  "The drugs that we are aware that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has on hand, not a single one of them has ever been used for an execution," Maurie Levin of the University of Texas School of law and one of the lawyers representing the three inmates told 1200 WOAI news on Wednesday.  "We are concerned that they are experimenting on people."

 

  The lawsuit says experimentation 'is reviled by any civilized society' and demands executions be halted until the state can 'demonstrate the integrity and legality of any and all controlled substances they intend to use for Plaintiff's execution.'

 

  Texas, which conducts more executions than any other state, has twice in three years run out of the drugs which it uses to execute condemned criminals.  In 2011, the state was unable to obtain sodium thiopental, one of three drugs in a 'cocktail' which had been used in executions in Texas since lethal injection was introduced in 1983, after the European Union objected to the export of the drug, which is manufactured in Italy, for use in executions.  Texas then switched to the sedative pentobarbital, but the Danish company which holds the rights to market the drug, objected to its use in executions.

 

  Texas said earlier this summer that it's supply of pentobarbital had run out, but then announced after an execution last week that it had obtained a new supply, but declined to specify where the drugs came from, or specifically what drugs will be used.

 

  "We the public are entitled to some level of transparency," Levin said.

 

  The lawsuit claims the state is 'in possession of propofol, midazolam, and hydromorphene, drugs which have never been used in an execution, by any state.

 

  "Expert evidence available to date indicates that use of any of these drugs runs a substantial risk of grave pain," the lawsuit states.

 

  The lawsuit claims that the state used a subterfuge to obtain the drugs from manufacturers which are unwilling to have their products used for execution.  Levin claims the state purchased the drugs for delivery to the 'Huntsville Unit Hospital,' a medical ward that has not existed since 1983, to cover up the fact that the drugs may be used for executions.

 

  The lawsuit also claims that the state attempted to purchase what is called 'compounded pentobarbital,' a drug which had been specially formulated, from a New York company called Pharmacy Innovations, and ordered delivered to the 'Huntsville Unit Hospital' with a prescription written in the name of the prison warden.

 

  "Pharmacy Innovations was completely unaware that the drugs were purchased with the intent to use them for lethal injections," the lawsuit states. "Once they were informed of the purpose of the pentobarbital TDCJ was attempting to purchase, they cancelled the order before it had been filled."

 

  The company which distributes propofol, Fresenius Kabi, said in a statement that the use of propofol in executions could threaten the supply of the anesthetic to the United States and urges states not to use it for that purpose.

 

  Richard Dieter, who heads the Death Penalty Information Center, says the unavailability of execution drugs is a growing problem for death penalty states.

 

  "This is a problem which is delaying executions in many places, and is likely to continue to cause a breakage in the regular execution cycle," said Dieter, who says the lawsuit filed by the three inmates is 'justified.'

 

  "If you are going to be treated medically, you have a right to know what drugs, where they came from, and the reliability or purity of what is being done to your body, even if you are being executed," he said.

 

  He says Florida, Tennessee, Missouri, and Ohio are also wrestling with the issue of what drugs to use to execute inmates.  Dieter says Florida intends to use midazolam in an execution set for later this month, and Missouri has three doses of propofol on hand for executions.

 

  One of the inmates who filed the lawsuit is set to be executed next week.

 

 

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