"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Virginia inmate challenges 'secret' lethal injection drugs in attempt to halt execution

Alfredo Prieto
Alfredo Prieto
Attorneys for a convicted serial killer facing the death penalty in Virginia moved Wednesday to halt the 49-year-old's execution by challenging the state's use of lethal injection drugs that it obtained from Texas.

The state plans to execute Alfredo Prieto on Thursday after Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe rejected an attempt earlier this week to delay his death sentence. The El Salvador native was on death row in California for raping and murdering a 15-year-old girl when DNA evidence linked him to the 1988 slaying of a young couple in Virginia. Authorities say he has been linked to several other murders in both states but he was never charged because he had already been sentenced to death.

Prieto's attorneys have asked the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to stay the execution until officials disclose more information about the pentobarbital it intends to use - including the name of the supplier, tests confirming its sterility and potency and documents showing that the drugs were properly handled, transported and stored.

Texas allows prison officials to shield where they get execution drugs and Prieto's attorneys say Virginia officials have not provided that information.

The Associated Press filed a public records request for the names of the manufacturers and the suppliers of the drugs, but the documents show only that the drugs were provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Texas prisons spokesman Jason Clark told AP last week that the three vials of pentobarbital given to Virginia were legally purchased from a compounding pharmacy, which he declined to name. Virginia will substitute the pentobarbital for midazolam that it intended to use because its supply of that sedative expires Wednesday.

Prieto's attorneys, Rob Lee and Elizabeth Peiffer, said the lack of information about the drugs puts the state at risk of carrying out a cruel and painful execution.

It is unknown whether Virginia or Texas "know any pertinent information about the compounding pharmacy, including its ability to make a sterile injectable drug, its track record with regard to faulty drugs and adverse incidents, or even the source of the raw ingredients it uses," they said in a statement. If Virginia does possess this information, "it is keeping it secret. This lack of transparency prevents the courts from assessing the constitutionality of VDOC's execution procedure."

A spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Corrections didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Richard Vorhis said in a letter to Peiffer on Tuesday that the drugs were legally acquired, tested and transported in an appropriate manner. He noted that Texas has successfully used the same compound in 24 executions over the past 2 years with no problems.

Pentobarbital is the 1st of 3 drugs that the state intends to use Thursday.

Mylan, the manufacturer of the rocuronium bromide - another drug that will be used - said the company sent several letters to Virginia officials when it learned about the drug's possible use and then demanded that the state return the product when it received no response.

Spokeswoman Nina Devlin said in a statement that the company is contractually restricting its distributors from distributing Mylan products, including rocuronium bromide, for use in lethal injection or for any other use outside of the approved labeling or applicable standards of care.

Prieto's attorneys in Virginia and California have also both asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay his execution so that they can prove that he's intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for the death penalty. A federal appeals court in Virginia upheld his death sentence in June, saying that he failed to prove that no reasonable juror would find him eligible for execution and that "absent some new 'smoking gun,'" evidence of his ability to handle everyday tasks was "at best inconclusive."

Source: Associated Press, September 30, 2015

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