Death By Mystery Drugs

by Patrick Appel

Yesterday, Georgia’s Supreme Court upheld the state’s execution drug secrecy law:

In upholding the state law, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that, without confidentiality, there was “a significant risk that persons and entities necessary to the execution would become unwilling to participate.”

Georgia lawmakers passed the confidentiality measure last year amid concerns over the supply of pentobarbital, a chemical used in the injections. A number of firms, under pressure from anti-death penalty activists, have refused to supply the drug for the purposes of killing inmates.

But state law permits concealing the source of lethal injection drugs from the public, attorneys and judges in court proceedings.

Stephanie Mencimer is distressed:

Under the law Georgia just upheld, the public has no right to obtain the name of any person or company, even under seal in a legal proceeding, who manufactures or sells an execution drug. It also lets state authorities hide the identities of doctors who participate in executions—a professional ethical breach. The secrecy requirements may also be an effort to protect state officials from embarrassment; in 2010 and 2011, the state was shamed by news that it had been illegally importing expired drugs with limited potency from “Dream Pharma,” a London company operating out of the back of a run-down driving school. Georgia actually used those drugs in two executions before the Food and Drug Administration stepped in and confiscated the supply.

Meanwhile, Andrew Cohen worries about Russell Bucklew’s impending execution in Missouri:

Bucklew’s serious health problems guarantee that his execution will be far more complicated than most that have occurred recently during this season of discontent over injection procedures. That grim fact (and the botched execution last month in Oklahoma) have put pressure on officials in a state notorious lately for hiding its execution procedures from public view. And, to add to that pressure, several news organizations last week filed two First Amendment lawsuits seeking more basic information from Missouri’s executioners.

The litigation to make Missouri’s death-penalty more transparent and hold officials more accountable won’t spare Bucklew or any other death row inmates scheduled to be executed in the state anytime soon. And neither the state courts nor the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, with primary federal jurisdiction over the state, have shown any inclination to stop recent executions or otherwise require officials to reveal more about the drugs they wish to use or how they are procured.

But if Bucklew’s execution goes badly—his lawyers want it videotaped for evidence—the furor could dwarf the uproar over Clayton Lockett’s execution.