AUSTIN (AP) — A judge ordered Texas prison officials Thursday to disclose the supplier of a new batch of lethal injection drugs to attorneys for two inmates set to be executed, but she stopped short of revealing the identity of the manufacturer to the public.
The ruling by state District Judge Suzanne Covington came after the Texas Department of Criminal Justice argued that threats against execution suppliers are growing in danger. The agency recently obtained a threat assessment from law enforcement officers and pictures on the Internet suggesting physical harm against pharmacists making the drugs, Assistant Attorney General Nicole Bunker-Henderson said.
State prison officials have lost previous attempts to keep information about its execution drug supplier confidential.
“The circumstances have changed from 2012. We can show there’s evidence out there that there has been a significant, real concrete threat to similarly situated pharmacists,” Bunker-Henderson said.
Phil Durst, one of the attorneys trying to make the suppliers known, said they had a right to know where the drugs originated.
“Is it eBay? Did they have some good customer service rankings? We have no idea where it’s from or how it was made,” Durst said. “Maybe this stuff is A-OK. Maybe this stuff was laced with strychnine off the street. We don’t know, and they need to know before they inflict the ultimate penalty.”
Attorneys for two death row inmates filed a lawsuit against the Texas prison officials seeking the information.
Texas prisons spokesman Jason Clark said the agency was “disappointed” in the ruling and would appeal.
The prison agency lost its previous supplier last year after the compound pharmacy’s name was made public and it received threats. Prison officials contend the identity of the new drug source should be withheld to protect the new supplier.
The lawsuit against the state agency contends the prisoners cannot evaluate the risk that could result in them being subjected to unconstitutionally cruel pain.
Attorneys for convicted killers Tommy Lynn Sells and Ramiro Hernandez-Llanas filed a lawsuit demanding the Texas Department of Criminal Justice name the provider of the pentobarbital, the sedative the state uses for lethal injections.
Sells and Hernandez-Llanas are scheduled to die April 3 and 9 respectively. Sells was condemned for slashing two girls’ throats in 1999 at a home near Del Rio; one girl died. Hernandez-Llanas was condemned for the 1997 beating death of a man who owned a ranch where Hernandez worked near Kerrville.
“Time is truly of the essence,” the inmates’ lawyers said in their lawsuit. “Without information about where the drugs come from, and the purity, potency and integrity of those drugs, neither Mr. Hernandez-Llanas nor Mr. Sells can evaluate the risk that their executions will subject them to cruel and unusual pain in violation of the Eighth Amendment.”
The current supply of pentobarbital used for lethal injections in Texas expires April 1. Prison officials said last week they have a new supply but cited security reasons for declining to disclose the supplier’s name.
The state attorney general’s office previously has said the information should be public and is waiting for arguments from the agency on why the policy should be changed.
On Wednesday, an Oklahoma judge voided that state’s execution law, agreeing with inmates that a “veil of secrecy” preventing them from seeking information about the drugs used in lethal injections violated their rights under the state constitution. Oklahoma officials plan to appeal.
Oklahoma is among the states that have promised companies confidentiality if they will provide the sedatives or paralyzing agents used to execute condemned prisoners, and went beyond that to prevent information from being revealed even in court.
Arkansas and Missouri keep execution information secret.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.