Saturday, June 29, 2013

Louisiana releases execution protocol; inmate's lawyer calls it 'inadequate'

Louisiana Death Chamber
Louisiana corrections officials have released the state's execution protocol after a lawsuit brought by two death row inmates called for more transparency into the procedure. But the inmates' lawyers say details released by the state are spotty at best, and that the use of a new lethal drug is not fully explained.

Until this month, the state's execution protocol was inaccessible by the public, including inmates and their attorneys. The protocol, obtained by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune on Friday, was released after 2 death row inmates filed suit against the state Corrections Department and Louisiana State Penitentiary, or Angola, to make public the documents.

But, Michael Rubenstein, lawyer for inmate Jessie Hoffman, said the nearly 60-page document he received last week is "woefully inadequate." While it confirms previous court admissions that the state plans to switch to using a single drug in its lethal injections, it leaves out important details, he said.

"The lethal injection protocol released by the Louisiana Department of Corrections this week fails to provide the most basic information about how it intends to carry out executions," Rubenstein said Friday.

He pointed to gaps in how lethal drugs will be stored, overseen and administered, and who will have ultimate responsibility over the drugs. He also expressed concerns about the state's decision to switch from a 3-drug cocktail to just 1 drug.

"We still do not know whether any medical authorities were consulted regarding the incorporation of (pentobarbital); the original source or expiration date of the new drug; how the drug is to be administered; or the training of personnel who will implement the new procedure for the 1st time," Rubenstein said.

Pentobarbital is a drug primarily used to treat seizures and insomnia. In large doses -- such as the 5 grams administered during execution -- the drug is lethal. Formerly, it was used primarily in euthanizing animals.

When pentobarbital first began being used in cases of capital punishment, in Oklahoma in 2010, inmate advocacy groups expressed concerns with it being largely untested in large doses. Ohio was the 1st state to use it alone in March 2011, triggering an outcry from advocates.

Louisiana has not yet used the single-drug formula. The last inmate to be executed in the state was in 2010, when the 3-drug cocktail was still in use. The state decided to make the switch after supplies of sodium thiopental -- the starter drug in the cocktail -- began to run out.

While Hoffman's execution is not yet scheduled, the other plaintiff in the case, Christopher Sepulvado, was scheduled to be executed on Ash Wednesday this year. But after he joined Hoffman's suit, the court ordered the state to delay his execution until the protocol was released.

It is unclear whether the state will proceed with Sepulvado's execution now that the protocol has been released. Part of the attorneys' argument was based on concerns about the use of pentobarbital, its 3-year expiration date, and who would be monitoring its storage -- 3 pieces of information not fully elucidated in the execution protocol.

Pam LaBorde, public information officer for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, would not comment on the case Friday, citing "pending death penalty-related issues before the courts."

In response, Rubenstein said he and his colleagues will "engage in a robust discovery process to uncover the truth" that begins with additional interrogations and documents requests.

Hoffman was sentenced to death for the 1996 kidnapping, rape and killing of Mary "Molly" Elliott, an advertising executive in St. Tammany Parish. Sepulvado was convicted of the beating and fatal scalding of his 6-year-old stepson in Mansfield in 1992.

Source: The New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 29, 2013