The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

National News

April 2, 2014

Judge halts Texas executions over drug secrecy

HOUSTON — A federal judge on Wednesday halted two executions in Texas, declaring that the state's prison system must disclose to defense attorneys more information about the supplier of a new batch of lethal-injection drugs.

U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore issued a temporary injunction halting the executions of Tommy Lynn Sells, a convicted serial killer who was set to die Thursday, and Ramiro Hernandez-Llanas, another inmate scheduled to be put to death next week.

Texas officials have insisted the identity of the drug supplier must be kept secret to protect the company from threats of violence and that the stock of the sedative pentobarbital falls within the acceptable ranges of potency.

Defense attorneys say they must have the name of the supplier so they can verify the quality of the drug and spare condemned inmates from unconstitutional pain and suffering.

Gilmore ordered the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to provide defense attorneys with details about the supplier and how the drug was tested.

Lawyers for the state planned to appeal. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected similar arguments about execution secrecy in a Missouri case, and the condemned prisoner was put to death.

Gilmore's ruling "honors the importance of transparency in the execution process," said Maurie Levin, an attorney for the inmates. "And the order makes it clear this last-minute litigation and stays of execution would not be necessary if (the prison agency) had not ignored the rule of law and tried to shield this information from the public and the light of day."

Texas prisons spokesman Robert Hurst said the agency had no comment because the matter was still in court.

Since obtaining a new supply of pentobarbital two weeks ago, the Department of Criminal Justice had cited unspecified security concerns in refusing to disclose the source and other details about the drug.

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