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. 

Oklahoma Executes Gilbert Postelle

Oklahoma Executes Man Days Before A Trial On Whether Its Lethal Injection Method Is Legal

The state killed 35-year-old Gilbert Postelle, a man with an IQ that approaches an intellectual disability who suffered from neglect and drug addiction as a child.

The state of Oklahoma on Thursday executed Gilbert Postelle, 35, a man with an IQ that approaches an intellectual disability who suffered from neglect and drug addiction as a child. Postelle is the 4th person killed by the state in recent months amid a lawsuit over whether Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol is unconstitutionally cruel. Postelle was a plaintiff in that lawsuit, which is set to go to trial in less than 2 weeks.

To kill Postelle, Oklahoma used a lethal injection of midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride — a chemical combination that has resulted in multiple botched executions. The visibly painful execution of Clayton Lockett in 2014, using that same combination of drugs, prompted Oklahoma to pause executions for several years. The state resumed executions in October, killing John Marion Grant with the same 3 drugs. Grant vomited and gasped for air as he died. His autopsy later revealed that he likely experienced a torturous execution.

Gilbert Postelle had no final words before Oklahoma executed him. He shook his head “no” and closed his eyes before he was given the lethal injection drugs that led to his death. 

Postelle was killed as punishment for his role in the fatal shootings of Donnie Swindle, James Alderson, Terry Smith and Amy Wright in 2005. He received 2 death sentences for the killing of Wright and Alderson. He was 18 years old at the time of the crime, addicted to methamphetamine and acting on his father’s directions. His father and older brother also participated in the crime, but did not receive the death penalty.

Death rows in the U.S. are filled with people who experienced poverty and abuse during childhood. Postelle was no exception. His mother drank alcohol and used meth while pregnant with him. His father went to prison for 18 months when Postelle was a child, leaving him and his siblings with his mother, who was unable to care for them. She “abused her children, who were starved and nothing but bags of bones when their grandmother finally got them,” Postelle’s lawyer wrote in his clemency application. His mother was later admitted to a mental hospital.

Gilbert Postelle and his older brother David went to live with their grandparents. In 1999, when he was 12, Postelle was given an adaptive functioning test and scored in the lowest 0.1 percentile. He could not convey knowledge in writing, tell time, or identify the value of coins and bills. Around that time, Postelle’s grandfather had a stroke, prompting him and his brother to drop out of school to help bathe, feed and change diapers for his grandfather while their grandmother worked.

By then, Postelle’s father was cooking meth in an old bus on Postelle’s grandparents’ property. Surrounded by meth users, Postelle tried the drug for the 1st time when he was 12. He became addicted by the age of 13, according to his clemency application. At 15, Postelle started dating a 21-year-old woman, with whom he had a daughter.

When Postelle was a teenager, his father, Brad, was involved in a motorcycle accident that left him with brain damage. Despite a lack of evidence, Brad Postelle became convinced that a man named Donnie Swindle was responsible for the crash, and he directed his sons to get revenge. On Memorial Day in 2005, the 3 of them drove to Swindle’s home and killed him and 3 other people.

“My childhood wasn’t normal it was all I knew I was a meth addict by the age 13 it was a family addiction my dad my brother and me but in no way does it excuse my actions,” Postelle wrote in a statement he prepared for his clemency hearing 2 months ago.

“I was heartbroken at the thought of losing my dad and I knew who was responsible for it I was high for 5 days leading up to this horrible day there’s not a lot I remember about that day eather I was told that I had been up for almost a week doing meth,” Postelle wrote. “Bits and pieces are what I remember it’s like watching a movie can’t even tell you how this decision was made to take these people lifes because I truly do not remember I do understand that I am guilty and I accept that.”

After the crime, Postelle took 2 IQ tests and received scores in the mid-to-high 70s, indicative of limited intellectual functioning. If adjusted for what’s known as the “Flynn effect,” his scores would be considerably lower. Postelle was also evaluated by a clinical psychologist, who diagnosed him with major depressive disorder with psychotic features and found that he showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and possible schizophrenia.

Postelle’s brother was sentenced to life without the opportunity for parole, and his father was found incompetent to stand trial. Despite being the youngest participant in the crime — barely old enough to be legally eligible for the death penalty — Gilbert Postelle was sentenced to death.

Lawyers and investigators who worked on Postelle’s case have described him as unable to assist in his defense. The Supreme Court has held that it is unconstitutional to execute someone with an intellectual disability — although it has since allowed such executions to proceed.

The trial to determine whether the execution method used to kill Postelle was unconstitutionally cruel is set to begin in 11 days. In May 2020, U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot said he had received assurances that the state would not seek execution dates until the completion of the litigation.

But a grim legal technicality prompted the state to schedule executions for Postelle and several others amid ongoing litigation. Because of a Supreme Court standard, individuals pursuing challenges to lethal injection protocols must not only show that the execution method is unconstitutional, but also offer an alternative. In a court filing that all of the plaintiffs signed on to, lawyers provided four alternative methods, but Friot told each plaintiff to choose their specific preference. Six of the plaintiffs declined to do so, mostly citing objections to participating in their own deaths.

When Friot ruled last year that the case could proceed to trial, he dismissed the six plaintiffs who failed to indicate how they would prefer to be killed. In a footnote, Friot appeared to welcome the state to kill these men so their executions could produce evidence as to whether Oklahoma’s execution protocol is unconstitutionally cruel.

“Because... 6 of the plaintiffs in the case at bar have declined to proffer an alternative method of execution, there may well be a track record... of the new Oklahoma protocol by the time this case is called for trial as to the other 26 plaintiffs,” Friot wrote.

The state quickly scheduled executions for those 6 men, including Postelle, plus another who was never party to the lawsuit. The plaintiffs were later reinstated to the suit, but the state has still pushed forward with the executions. Postelle’s was the last execution scheduled before the beginning of the trial.

As Friot suggested, the most recent spate of state killings has already provided evidence that will be used at trial. The autopsy of Grant, who was executed in October, showed that his lungs were filled with fluid, indicating he experienced flash pulmonary edema, which induces sensations similar to drowning or being waterboarded.

Although witnesses described Grant vomiting and convulsing as he died, Oklahoma Department of Corrections officials insisted at the time that there were no complications with his execution.

Grant’s execution prompted Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board, in a 3-2 vote, to recommend clemency for Bigler Stouffer, the next man scheduled to be executed in the state. “I don’t think that any humane society ought to be executing people that way until we figure out how to do it right,” board member Larry Morris said at the time. Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) ignored the recommendation and permitted Stouffer’s killing to proceed.

Although Stouffer did not show visible signs of suffering during his execution, his autopsy later revealed that his lungs, like Grant’s, had filled with fluid. The lethal injection drug combination can result in paralysis, making a person unable to express pain or discomfort.

By the time Postelle went before the board, members had mostly dropped their concerns with the state’s execution method. Only 1 board member, Adam Luck, voted to commute Postelle’s death sentence to life without the possibility of parole. Luck, who frequently recommended clemency for people facing execution, was the target of politically motivated attacks by proponents of capital punishment. He resigned in January at Stitt’s request.

👉 Postelle becomes the 2nd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Oklahoma and the 116th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1990. Oklahoma trails only Texas (573) since the US Supreme Court decided on July 2, 1976 that executions could resume after a 4-year hiatus,

👉 Postelle becomes the 3rd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1,543rd overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

Source: Huffington Post, Staff; Rick Halperin, February 17, 2022

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