Friday, March 21, 2014

Killing on the down low

It's no secret that the available supply of drugs used to murder inmates is shrinking and that states who insist on killing their prisoners are having to get creative in acquiring the necessary drugs.

According to this report from the Colorado Independent, relying on documents acquired by Oklahoma investigative reporter Katy Fretland, back in 2011 Oklahoma officials asked for tickets on the 50-yard line for the annual Texas-OU game in exchange for setting up Texas with death drugs.

In the meantime, as I have written about before, states are beginning to turn to local compounding pharmacies to produce the drugs needed to kill inmates. The drugs produced by these pharmacies aren't regulated by the federal government and there are no guarantees that they will act as advertised.

Even more disturbing is the ways in which states have devised methods of acquiring the drugs that shield the identity of the suppliers from the public. Some states, such as Georgia, have passed laws making the identity of drug suppliers a state secret. Others have taken to taking money from the petty cash drawer and crossing state lines to make their purchases.
Under the cover of Oklahoma’s 2011 secrecy law, the state in 2012 bought 20 rounds of pentobarbital for $40,000 from an unknown supplier with a check from a petty cash account that shields the identity of the seller. It’s unclear whether the injections were made in a compounding pharmacy or whether a lack of oversight – compared to lethal injections sold by highly regulated pharmaceutical companies – led to the whole-body burning sensation Wilson described in the death chamber.
Why the secrecy? Why the intrigue?

If the public is so in favor of the death penalty why should anyone be hiding from the light like a cockroach?

In Colorado, the governor refused to reveal the protocol to be used in killing an inmate until a court ordered him to do so. Instead of complying with the order, Gov. Hickenlooper granted a reprieve.
Last year, before Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper blocked what would have been the state’s first execution since 1997, his administration refused to disclose which lethal injection drugs it would be using and who was making the drugs. The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado sued for the information, and continued the lawsuit even after Hickenlooper granted convicted murderer Nathan Dunlap a temporary reprieve. A court ordered the state to reveal the protocols it had planned for Dunlap’s execution. The corrections department, in turn, has said it will update its protocol before any future execution. 
Documents revealed that Colorado queried compounding pharmacies across the state for sodium thiopental, pentobarbital or similar drugs. Compounding pharmacies generally mix special-order drugs for patients’ needs. A lack of regulation for these types of pharmacies came to light in 2012 when a compounded drug was linked to a deadly meningitis outbreak.
Once upon a time executions were held in the middle of the day, attracting crowds numbering in the hundreds and thousands to witness the hanging. Long before the death penalty was abolished (temporarily) in the 1970's states had moved their executions to the middle of night in order to keep prying eyes away. With the advent of lethal injection many states have moved their executions from the middle of the night to early in the evening - I guess to afford the US Supreme Court time to consider any last minute appeals so they can still get the killing done before midnight.

Unlike state officials from Texas and Oklahoma who thought Team Pentobarbital was just a gas, I don't find anything about the death penalty to be even slightly amusing. There is nothing funny about the taking of a life -regardless of how worthy you may or may not think that person of living. The most intrusive power the state has is to take a life and yet some among us have chosen to be flippant about it.

These attempts to avoid public scrutiny of the source of death drugs and the protocols used to murder inmates are a blight on both our criminal (in)justice system and our very governance. If you're going to kill people in the name of the state, the very least you should be able to do is stand up and say how you're going to do it and who supplied the drugs.

If the negative publicity forces compounding pharmacies to just say no to being complicit in murder, so much the better.

H/T Democracy Now!

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