In the Bible Belt, Christmas Isn’t Coming to Death Row

When it comes to the death penalty, guilt or innocence shouldn’t really matter to Christians.  

NASHVILLE — Until August, Tennessee had not put a prisoner to death in nearly a decade. Last Thursday, it performed its third execution in four months.
This was not a surprising turn of events. In each case, recourse to the courts had been exhausted. In each case Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, declined to intervene, though there were many reasons to justify intervening. Billy Ray Irick suffered from psychotic breaks that raised profound doubts about his ability to distinguish right from wrong. Edmund Zagorksi’s behavior in prison was so exemplary that even the warden pleaded for his life. David Earl Miller also suffered from mental illness and was a survivor of child abuse so horrific that he tried to kill himself when he was 6 years old.
Questions about the humanity of Tennessee’s lethal-injection protocol were so pervasive following the execution of Mr. Irick that both Mr. Zagorski and M…

Why executions are on hold in Louisiana

Louisiana's death chamber
Louisiana hasn't held an execution since 2010, despite having 72 people sitting on death row -- and it won't be resuming executions anytime soon

At the request of state authorities, U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick agreed this week to a 12-month extension of an order temporarily delaying all executions in Louisiana for at least another year. The state is being sued in federal court over its lethal injection protocol for the death penalty.

Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican, said this week that Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, is also dragging his feet on resolving the execution issue. 

Edwards countered that Landry is using the state's difficulty with executions to score political points, but the governor has also declined to say whether he supports the death penalty at all. 

The two men often get into public political squabbles, and Landry is considering running against Edwards in the 2019 gubernatorial election.

There are some challenges for Louisiana when it comes to resuming executions. But Edwards, Landry and the Louisiana Legislature have the ability to address some of these issues -- if they want to get executions moving again.

Here are [several] challenges Louisiana faces:

Louisiana can't get the drugs to perform lethal injection

Louisiana can't put anyone to death because it can't find someone to sell the drugs needed to carry out executions, said Natalie LaBorde, deputy secretary at the Department of Corrections. 

This has been a problem Louisiana has faced for several years. The state's execution protocol has been changed a few times in recent years to try using different drugs that might be easier to acquire -- with no success.

The state's current protocol allows for both a one-drug and two-drug combination to be used in executions, but LaBorde said the state hasn't been able to get the drugs for either procedure.

"The drug companies will not sell them to us," she said in an interview Thursday (July 19).

Changing the type of drugs that the state tries to use again might not help either. 

The Edwards administration and Landry's office had discussed using another drug, like fentanyl, in executions. But at least some drug companies ban Louisiana from using their products for any purpose unless the state agrees not to use them for executions.

The state has had to sign agreements with drug companies saying they won't use the company's products for the death penalty, in order to get access to them for medicinal purposes. 

Louisiana is far from the only state to face this problem. A execution in Nevada was blocked earlier this month when a drug company sued over its product, midazolam, being used to carry out the death penalty. The drug company is accusing Nevada of acquiring the drug through illegitimate means, according to NPR. 

In 2015, Nebraska attempted to purchase lethal injection drugs it wanted to use from India. The U.S. government said it would not permit the drugs to be imported, according to the Omaha World-Herald

Execution drugs became particularly hard to get after 2016, when Pfizer Inc. joined European drug manufacturers in banning their products from being used for executions. Thirty-one states have the death penalty on the books, but only eight states have managed to carry out executions since the Pfizer ban went into place, according to Reuters

Louisiana's process to obtain lethal drugs is more transparent than other states

Louisiana could make it easier to obtain lethal injection drugs if Edwards and the Louisiana Legislature agree to make the process of purchasing the drugs more secretive, according to Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. 

Most states that have been able to successfully carry out executions in 2018 are not required to be as transparent as Louisiana about where they purchase their lethal injection drugs. 

State law makes how Louisiana purchases its lethal injection drugs a matter of public record. That makes it easier for drug companies -- who often oppose their products being used in executions -- to find out if the state is using something they manufacture to carry out the death penalty. 

It also doesn't provide an incentive for compounding pharmacies, who have supplied several states with death penalty drugs in recent years, to work with Louisiana. 

A compounding pharmacy can make the product for an execution without involving a drug manufacturer. States started relying on them for execution drugs after major pharmaceutical businesses banned their products from being used.

Louisiana tried to contact a compounding pharmacy about obtaining drugs for lethal injection in 2014, but it's unclear whether the product was actually purchased, according to the Death Penalty Information Center

Texas has executed eight of the 14 people who have been put to death in the United States this year, and has refused to reveal the compounding pharmacy that supplies its drugs since 2013.

The Texas Supreme Court, however, decided in May that the state's prison system has to reveal the name of its supplier -- at least the one from a couple of years ago. The ruling was in response to a lawsuit being brought by death row inmates, though it won't shed much light on more recent executions. 

In 2015, the Texas Legislature passed a law allowing for the supplier of execution drugs to the state to be kept secret, which the Supreme Court ruling won't affect. Texas will still be able to keep the source of any execution drugs after 2015 a secret, thanks to the state law. 

Louisiana could pass a similar statute to deal with the shortage of execution drugs in this state. In 2014, former state Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie, introduced a bill to do so, then ended up pulling it. Lopinto got into a disagreement with former Gov. Bobby Jindal over another matter and yanked the bill from consideration as a result. If he hadn't, it would likely have passed because it didn't face much opposition. 

Any lawmaker has the ability to introduce such legislation again. Neither Landry nor the governor have pushed to file such legislation since taking office in 2016. The attorney general -- who is concerned about the pace of executions -- has refused to say whether he would pursue such a bill during the 2019 regular legislative session.

Source: NOLA, Julia O'Donoghue, July 24, 2018

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but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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