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Texas: Gov. Abbott should grant death row inmate Rodney Reed a reprieve, before it’s too late

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Convicted murderer Rodney Reed is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Nov. 20, but Gov. Greg Abbott has the power to stop it.
As it stands, there’s no indication that Abbott will. He has only stopped one execution since becoming governor 5 years ago.
Reed was sentenced to death in 1998, after being convicted of the brutal 1996 rape and killing of a 19-year-old woman from central Texas, Stacey Stites. And though the governor has yet to weigh in on this specific case, he supports capital punishment, as do most voters in the state. According to a June 2018 poll from the University of Texas/Texas Tribune, fully three-fourths of Texans strongly or somewhat support the death penalty.
But the question at hand has nothing to do with the death penalty, per se. Granting a reprieve would simply be the right thing to do — and a necessary precaution against the doubts that would linger, if Reed is executed as scheduled.
Reed has consistently maintained his innocence, and legitimate questions …

Pfizer warns Nebraska to return any lethal injection drugs it has manufactured that state may have

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A major pharmaceutical company demanded in a letter a month ago that the State of Nebraska return any lethal injection drugs it might have that were manufactured by the company or its affiliate.

Pfizer adopted a policy in 2016 banning the use of its products in an execution as a "misuse" of drugs intended to save lives.

"Pfizer makes its products to enhance and save the lives of the patients we serve. Consistent with these values, Pfizer strongly objects to the use of its products as lethal injections for capital punishment," stated the Oct. 4 letter, signed by Robert Jones, a public relations director at Pfizer.

Officials with the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services and the office of Gov. Pete Ricketts declined to say Thursday if the state had obtained any Pfizer drugs.

 "The state spent $10,500 on the four lethal injection drugs purchased last month."

"We are not disclosing the identity of the supplier at this time," said Corrections spokeswoman Dawn-Renee Smith.

But Smith said the state spent $10,500 on the 4 lethal injection drugs purchased last month.

This comes 2 years after Nebraska spent $54,000 on similar drugs that it never received.

A week ago, the state informed a death row inmate that it had obtained the substances it planned to use in carrying out the inmate's death sentence.

3 of the drugs are on Pfizer's list of substances it prohibits for use in executions.

If Nebraska obtained drugs made by Pfizer, it risks a lawsuit from the company or one of its distributors claiming that it violated the company's ban on using drugs on its list of "restricted products" for a lethal injection, according to a national authority on the death penalty.

"The question is: Is there someone who is violating their contract with Pfizer?" asked Robert Dunham of the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center on Thursday. "Or is a distributor being misled about the use of the drug?"

Dunham said Pfizer typically doesn't send such "demand" letters unless it suspects that a state has obtained drugs manufactured by it.

The Pfizer letter was among several documents released by Corrections this week in response to public records requests from The World-Herald and the ACLU of Nebraska. The newspaper and the civil rights group each independently requested information about the state's efforts to obtain lethal injection drugs.

The records show that the state on Sept. 19 received federal approval, if necessary, to import controlled substances. On Oct. 12, records indicated that 4 lethal injection drugs were being stored at a prison in Lincoln.

The documents also list expiration dates for the drugs. 2 of the drugs expire in July and August 2018.

That raises doubts about whether Nebraska could set an execution date before the drugs expire, according to a leading death penalty opponent, State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha.

While the state has declined to identify the source of the 4 drugs, Smith, the Corrections spokeswoman, said last week that they came from a source in the U.S.

Dunham said the information released so far seems to indicate two possible sources: either a private compounding pharmacy or a distributor that handles Pfizer products.

The records released by the state indicated that at least 2 of the drugs had been sent to a laboratory in Minnesota for testing. Such testing is required by state law before the drugs can be used in an execution, Smith said.

The 4 drugs that the state obtained included 3 on Pfizer's list of 13 "restricted products" the company has said cannot be used in lethal injections.

The 3 are diazepam, fentanyl citrate and potassium chloride. A 4th drug obtained by the state, cisatracurium besylate, is not manufactured by Pfizer, a company spokesman said Thursday.

The Pfizer letter said the company would reimburse the state for any drugs it returned that were made by Pfizer or Hospira, a Pfizer company. A company spokesman declined to say if Nebraska had returned any drugs, referring questions to state officials.

Nebraska, as well as several other states, have scrambled to obtain lethal injection drugs in recent years, in part because companies like Pfizer have banned their use for executions.

Some documents released to the ACLU illustrated that. Included were pleas from officials in Nevada and Mississippi who were seeking help to obtain lethal injection drugs for their states.

Danielle Conrad, who heads the ACLU of Nebraska, said Thursday that the information released to the ACLU raises more questions than it answers.

"Every attempt to tinker with the machinery of death doesn't bring us any closer to an execution," Conrad said. "It just raises a new set of questions."

Almost 1/2 of the records request by the group produced a state response that "no records" exist. Conrad, a former state senator, said the ACLU is reviewing whether its request was fully complied with, adding that she expects more to be released next week.

Nebraska has yet to seek an execution warrant for the inmate, Jose Sandoval, who was sentenced to die for his role in the murders of 5 people inside a Norfolk bank in 2002. Last week's notice was a required step before an execution date is requested.

There has not been an execution in Nebraska for 20 years, since the electric chair was in use. Electrocution was ruled unconstitutional as cruel and unusual punishment by the Nebraska Supreme Court, so the state switched to lethal injection.

But the state has stumbled in past attempts to obtain the drugs.

In 2011, a Swiss manufacturer demanded the return of a lethal injection drug purchased through a broker in India, saying it had been improperly obtained by the broker. 2 years ago, Nebraska spent $54,000 through the same broker, Chris Harris, for drugs it never received. That shipment was blocked by federal authorities.

Source: Omaha World-Herald, November 17, 2017


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