On May 13 of this year Robert Campbell was scheduled to be murdered by the State of Texas. Just hours before a lethal dose of pentobarbital was pumped into his veins, the execution was stayed by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Mr. Campbell made two arguments - his first was that he was mentally retarded and, therefore, should not be executed. He also argued that he should have the right to know the source of the drug being used to kill him.
The court granted the stay based on the first argument and dismissed the second argument.
The matter went before the US Supreme Court on Monday. The Court declined to review Mr. Campbell's argument that he shouldn't have been sentenced to death because of an intellectual disability. Mr. Campbell's attorney, Rob Owen, said he wasn't surprised by the decision because of the recent Supreme Court decision in Hall v. Florida in which the Supremes criticized states for following strict guidelines when determining whether an inmate (or a defendant) is mentally challenged to the degree he can't be executed.
The Court left unanswered, for now, Mr. Campbell's claim that it was unconstitutional for Texas not to disclose the source of the drug. Without knowing the source of the lethal drug, there are no checks to make certain the drug is of a particular purity or of a sufficient strength to do what it's supposed to do without causing unnecessary pain and suffering.
The Texas Attorney General (and gubernatorial candidate), Greg Abbot, issued an opinion that the state was under no obligation to provide the requested information to death row inmates due to potential threats against the suppliers of the drug. You know those cockroaches are much more comfortable running around in the darkness - and I get the impression that some folks might be averse to buying their drugs from a pharmacy that supplies the drugs of death to the state. Just thinking.
I'm afraid that Mr. Campbell's second claim will fall on deaf ears in Washington because the protocol in Texas just calls for a massive overdose of a sedative without the use of any other drugs. The only side effect of a weaker dose of pentobarbital in Texas would be a longer length of time between injection and death.
Mr. Campbell's claims would carry much more weight in a state with a multi-drug protocol where the sedative's purpose is to render the prisoner unconscious before the actual death drugs are administered. In Oklahoma and Ohio, for instance, if the initial drug isn't potent enough (or if the dose is too small) then the condemned man may very well not be unconscious when the subsequent drugs are injected. If the sedative doesn't do the trick then the prisoner will be aware of the effects of the other drugs and would suffer a severely painful death.
Of course I think the information should be made public because the state is killing an inmate in our name - whether we support capital punishment or not - and our money is being used to purchase the tools of death. The government's efforts to keep the information under wraps is inimical to our democracy. If a pharmacist wants to play footsy with the devil, then that's his right - but we have a right to know who's supplying the drugs. The Supreme Court is well aware of the fact that if that information were to be made public by every state there would be no one left to supply the drugs.
And that's exactly why the information needs to be made public.