A ruling by a court in Austin that Texas must disclose the source of the Pentobarbital it uses to execute condemned criminals is seen as a major victory for opponents of capital punishment, 1200 WOAI news reports.
The judge ruled that Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials must disclose 'in camera,' or privately to the judge, the source of a new supply of the lethal injection drug that the state received to execute criminals starting April 1. The state has announced the receipt of the drugs, but has said revealing where the drugs came from would be a security violation.
Jen Moreno, an attorney with the Death Penalty Center at the University of California Berkeley tells 1200 WOAI news the fact that the drugs are more than likely from an unregulated so called 'compounding pharmacy' will open the door to claims that using them on inmates violates Constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
"I would expect that the attorneys in that court are taking a serious look at what was released and they will seriously consider bringing an Eighth Amendment challenge," she said.
But state prison spokesman Jason Clark says, not so fast.
"Certainly the agency is disappointed in the District Court ruling, and we plan on appealing the decision to a higher court," Clark said.
Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly unwilling to allow their product to be used in executions, which has forced Texas and other states to rely on small compounding pharmacies to obtain the needed drugs. When the state got the death drugs that were used to execute a man last night, officials actually made up the non-existent 'Huntsville Hospital' and ordered drugs to be sent there. When the state revealed the name of the pharmacy in the Houston suburb of The Woodlands which provided the drugs, the pharmacy was picketed by anti death penalty groups.
Moreno says the attitude of the drug companies should say something to Texas officials about the waning popularity of capital punishment.
"I think that is sending a message about a larger awareness that the death penalty is not something that we need in our society," she said.