For Immediate Distribution
May 28, 2014
BATON ROUGE, La. Yesterday the Senate Judiciary B Committee endorsed Representative Lopinto’s Secret Execution bill and added a last minute amendment to deprive the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy of any oversight capacity over the sale and handling of lethal injection drugs. The Bill would allow the State to send Department of Corrections staff to other states with wads of cash to purchase lethal narcotics from pharmacies not regulated in Louisiana. If an execution is botched, the bill prohibits any public inquiry or hearing into what has gone wrong.
At the Senate Hearing on the Bill, Sidney Garmon of the Louisiana Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and Steve Beatty, Editor of The Lens testified against the Bill. Garmon noted that the Bill prevents citizens from knowing the most significant facts -- how Government behaves when it determines who should live and who should die. Steve Beatty from The Lens testified about the need for public review of financial transactions made by the government to secure executions: “I would like to see that when our state carries out the most severe penalty possible, that it is done with the greatest oversight and opportunity for review and accountability possible.”
Representative Lopinto’s bill seeks to curtail growing criticism of the manner in which the death penalty is carried out by removing public access to information and depriving the Board of Pharmacy and other regulatory bodies of oversight. Rather than ensure executions are carried out correctly, the State is increasing risks that executions will be botched, result in torture, or fail to work. It also prevents the citizens of Louisiana from making informed decisions about the most significant moral issues of the day.
“If Government can’t perform executions in the light of day, according to the rules, we should reconsider our decision to allow Government to execute people.” Mercedes Montagnes, Deputy Director of the Promise of Justice Initiative.
The first recorded botched execution in modern times occurred in Louisiana, when the State’s effort to execute Willie Francis did not work. Review of the procedures revealed that a prison guard was intoxicated when he attempted to execute Francis. Louisiana is now at risk of repeating the botched executions seen earlier this year in Ohio and Oklahoma.
If we are going to have the death penalty, then state officials cannot continue to cloak executions in secrecy, which prevents counsel for the condemned, the courts and the public from obtaining basic details about the states’ execution processes. The Promise of Justice Initiative is working to ensure that Louisiana does not carry out experimental executions behind a wall of silence.
Recent Botched Executions
A description of additional botched executions is available here. Recent botched executions have resulted in calls from various figures, both Republican Governors and President Obama acknowledged the need for transparency and clarity with regard to the method that states use to administer capital punishment.
Executions in Oklahoma and South Dakota performed with compounded pentobarbital – the drug that Louisiana’s execution protocol calls for - appeared to have had serious problems, including the January 9th execution of Oklahoman Michael Lee Wilson, whose last words, after being injected with compounded pentobarbital, were, “I feel my whole body burning.” Oklahoma has refused to provide any information about what might have gone wrong in Mr. Wilson's execution, but expert pharmacologist Larry D. Sasich, PharmD, MPH, FASHP, signed a sworn affidavit stating, "It is my opinion that Mr. Wilson's reaction is consistent with contaminated pentobarbital sodium injection."
In October 2012, in South Dakota, Eric Robert was executed using compounded pentobarbital. Witnesses reported that he “appeared to clear his throat and gasp heavily, at which point his skin turned a blue-purplish hue. Mr. Robert opened his eyes and they remained open until his death, and his heart continued beating for 10 minutes after he ceased to breathe.”
Clayton Lockett’s botched execution last month was the result of the secrecy around lethal injection procedures that officials in Oklahoma fought tooth and nail to protect. In fact, the execution was called off as a result of the extreme torture being endured by the condemned man who later died of a massive heart attack. In response to this botched execution, the Republican Governor called for an investigation into what went wrong. The very type of investigation called for by the Governor would not be possible under Representative Lopinto’s Secret Execution Bill.
On January 16th, 2014 Ohio media eyewitness reports of the Dennis McGuire execution, which took more than 20 minutes, observed, “McGuire started struggling and gasping loudly for air, making snorting and choking sounds which lasted for at least 10 minutes, with his chest heaving and his fist clinched. Deep, rattling sounds emanated from his mouth.” McGuire was executed using a new, untested two-drug combination: midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a morphine derivative. His attorneys had argued that using an untested combination of drugs carried excess risk of extreme pain and suffering during the execution. The state disagreed.
An Ohio execution in 2009 ended with the State’s failure to execute the condemned after several hours of unsuccessful attempts.
Contact: Mercedes Montagnes