NPR Investigation Reveals Supplier of Texas Execution Drugs Has Multiple DEA Violations; provided TDCJ with pentobarbital for more than 20 executions

A July 10, 2024, National Public Radio (NPR) investigation has revealed that Rite Away, a small chain of pharmacies located around San Antonio and Austin, Texas, compounded and provided pentobarbital for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) between 2019 and late 2023 to carry out lethal injection executions. 

Texas executes David Lee Powell

HUNTSVILLE — David Lee Powell (left), the once-promising University of Texas honors student who fatally shot an Austin police officer 32 years ago, has been executed by lethal injection.

Powell, 59, was pronounced dead at 6:19 p.m.

He declined to make a final statement.

David Lee Powell spent his final day packing personal property and meeting visitors.

Powell’s day began before dawn, and guards reported that he was eating breakfast at 3:48 a.m. By 6:15 a.m., guards noted that he was packing his personal property before being escorted to a visitation area before 9 a.m.

His visitation period ended at noon.

By 4 p.m., Powell was scheduled to eat the final meal he requested.

Prison officials this afternoon also released the names of family members of slain police Officer Ralph Ablanedo who planned to witness the execution, as well as those who would attend for Powell.

The list also included prison officials, clergy and media representatives.

At 4:10 p.m., Huntsville police escorted a chartered bus containing retired and current Austin police officers in a procession followed by about more than 40 cars and motorcycles to the Walls Unit, where the execution chamber is located.

David Lee Powell received lethal injection about 30 minutes after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to halt his punishment Tuesday evening.

He was the longest-serving inmate executed in Texas since the state resumed carrying out executions in 1982. He's also one of the longest-imprisoned in the nation to die. In 2008, a prisoner in Georgia was executed after spending more than 33 years on death row.

Powell's attorneys had argued unsuccessfully his exemplary behavior on death row over the past three decades showed jurors were wrong when they decided he would be a continuing danger and should die for killing 26-year-old Ralph Ablanedo.

Asked by a warden if he had a final statement, Powell gave no response.

As the drugs began flowing into his arms, he gasped slightly, began snoring quietly, then showed no movement. Nine minutes later, at 6:19 p.m. CDT, he was pronounced dead.

Some 150 retired and active police officers from Austin traveled 135 miles east to Huntsville and waited outside the downtown prison in the 90-plus-degree heat as the punishment was carried out. Several officers in the group knew Ablanedo.

There were about a dozen death penalty opponents outside the Walls Unit in the hot sun. The protesters were kept apart from the supporters of Ralph Ablanedo.

The Austin police outside the prison assembled in lines after Powell's execution to act as an honor guard when Ablanedo’s family exited the building.

In May 1978, Ablanedo pulled over a car driven by Powell's girlfriend, Sheila Meinert, because it had no rear license plate. A background check showed Powell, riding in the passenger seat, was wanted for theft and passing bad checks. Powell shot the officer 10 times with a Chinese version of a Soviet-made AK-47.

He was sentenced to death three times, most recently in 1999. The Supreme Court overturned his original conviction from 1978, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals threw out his death sentence from a 1991 retrial.

"I am infinitely sorry that I killed Ralph Ablanedo," Powell said in a December 2009 letter, intended for the officer's family and kept in the inmate's court file.

Powell grew up on a dairy farm near Campbell in Hunt County, graduated a year early as valedictorian from his small high school and went into the honors program at the University of Texas at Austin. He was majoring in physics and math and aspiring to be a doctor when he got hooked on methamphetamines and never finished college.

Powell was on his way to a drug deal when Ablanedo pulled over the car, said authorities, who later found .45-caliber handgun and about $5,000 worth of illegal drugs in the vehicle.

Meinert received 15 years in prison for attempted capital murder, served just over four years and was paroled in 1989.

Powell becomes the 13th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Texas and the 460th overall since the state resumed capital punishment on Dec. 7, 1982. Powell becomes the 221st condemned inmate to be put to death in Texas since Rick Perry became Governor in 2001.

Powell becomes the 28th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1216th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

Further reading: After 32 years, has Powell's execution lost its meaning?

Sources: statesman.com, AP, Rick Halperin, June 15, 2010

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