It turns out that California isn't the only one making life-or-death-penalty decisions based on the availability of the drug sodium thiopental -- the first of three drugs used to render the inmate unconscious before injecting other drugs that stop the heart and breathing. (The
manufacturer's description says the drug is supposed to be used for anesthetizing patients during procedures lasting less than 15 minutes. The instructions also warn: "Can be habit forming.") Kentucky, Arizona, and Oklahoma have had to had to decide who to kill -- and when -- based on drug supply.
Backing up: In what has become the most macabre of legal dances, a federal judge stayed the execution of San Quintin State Prison inmate Albert Greenwood Brown late Tuesday night. Brown had been scheduled to die by lethal injection at 9 p.m. on Thursday, just three hours before the anesthetic was scheduled to expire at the crack of midnight. The inmate's attorneys remarked that the "entire fiasco" had a "Cinderella quality to it." Of course, there was a lot more at stake than a pumpkin.
The lethal injection drug is in high demand, and the supply can't keep up. According to a story in the Telegraph, "The drug is produced by just one pharmaceutical company, Illinois-based Hospira," and none will be available until January due to "production problems in sourcing raw materials." An aside: Is anyone else troubled that the company's website features a picture of grown men on a see-saw accompanying the slogan "Advancing Wellness?"
In the meantime, other states have been making decisions about which death row inmates to kill with a limited supply of drugs, or putting executions off altogether.
U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Foley is now reviewing the state's new death penalty regulations concocted since he halted the executions in 2006 to determine the risk of anesthesia failing, which would result in the death constituting cruel and unusual punishment.
Yet Brown's attorneys argued in a brief filed Tuesday that they already spotted a gaping hole in the new regulations: There's no mandate to check the expiration date on the drugs. "Perhaps this is how they lost track recently of what they can accomplish," the document states. "This does not portend well for the new Regulations."