Texas pushes to keep execution drug supplier under wraps

By Michael Graczyk
Associated Press

HOUSTON — Two days before Texas is set to execute its first inmate with a new batch of drugs, the state prison agency remained determined Tuesday to keep its supplier a secret, citing threats of violence to pharmacies that sell drugs used in lethal injections.

Since obtaining a new supply of the drug pentobarbital two weeks ago, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice had cited unspecified security concerns in refusing to disclose the source and other details about the sedative it plans to use to put inmates to death.

But in a brief filed Tuesday with the state attorney general’s office, Patricia Fleming, an assistant general counsel for the Texas prison system, argued that a supplier in another state received a specific threat of physical violence.

“An individual threatened to blow up a truck full of fertilizer outside a pharmacy supplying substances to be used in executions,” Fleming wrote.

As such, she argued, an open-records request filed by an attorney for a condemned inmate seeking the drug maker’s identity should not be granted.

Questions about the source of drugs used by states to carry out lethal injections have arisen in several states in recent months as numerous drug makers — particularly in Europe, where opposition is strongest to capital punishment — have refused to sell their products if they will be used to carry out executions.

That has led several U.S. prison systems to compounding pharmacies, which are not as heavily regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as more conventional pharmacies.

A batch of pentobarbital Texas purchased from such a compounding pharmacy in suburban Houston expired at the end of March. That pharmacy refused to sell the state any more drugs, citing threats it received after its name was made public. That led Texas to its new, undisclosed suppler.

An attorney for inmate Ramiro Hernandez-Llanas, set to die later this month, had filed an open-records request with the Department of Criminal Justice March 11 seeking the name of that supplier. The agency had until March 25 to either provide the records, set a specific date to provide them or seek a decision from the attorney general’s office that would allow it to withhold the information.

In three past such opinions, the attorney general’s office has directed the agency to release records about its lethal injection drugs. Fleming, in the request filed Tuesday, argued that circumstances have changed since 2012, the last time the attorney general’s office said the information should be disclosed.