12Sep 2015

Sedative Access Stirs Different Death Penalty Reactions in Tennessee, Mississippi

All states and the federal government use lethal injection as their primary method of execution. However, different states use different methods which may include one, two, or three drugs. In Tennessee the one drug method is commonly used and has brought about a number of speculations. In a case filled by inmates sentenced to death, Davidson County Chancery Judge Claudia Bonnyman upheld the one-drug method. According to the Judge Claudia Bonnyman, the plaintiffs’ death row inmates did not have sufficient proof that the one-drug method caused a painful and slow death. In addition, they did not show that other states where the method has been used have had experienced problems.

Due to the fact that restrictions on the distribution of pentobarbital have been placed on the only commercial producer to prevent it from being used in executions, the state laws requires the use of pentobarbital mixed to order by a pharmacist. Inmates have not been executed in Tennessee for more than 5 years because of legal challenges in accessing lethal injection drugs.

The move by legislators from a three-drug lethal injection method to a one-drug method and to use the electric chair as a backup in case of anything has brought about challenges; this has caused all previous scheduled executions to be suspended.

On the other hand, on Tuesday a federal judge in Jackson, Mississippi blocked the state from using the two-drug method in executions, as a result the death penalty is currently not applicable.

Henry T. Wingate a U.S. District Judge issued a restraining order saying that the state cannot use the two drugs, pentobarbital or midazolam, to render prisoners unconscious. He further stated that Mississippi law requires a three-drug method, which should consist of a sedative followed by a paralyzing agent and a drug that stops an inmate’s heart.

Wingate gave the order verbally on Tuesday in a phone conference, however, he is supposed to issue a written order, but no written copy was yet available later in the day, said Jim Craig, a lawyer for two inmates.

According to Sunflower County Records from the Death Penalty Information Center, Mississippi and all other states have been using sodium thiopental as the barbiturate from late 2010. Mississippi then started to use a centrally-manufactured version of pentobarbital, called Nembutal after the manufacture of sodium thiopental stopped selling it for executions. It was used in 8 executions from 2011 to 2012, however, the manufacture also cut off use in executions.

Following the challenges, the state then bough pentobarbital mixed to order by a pharmacist. However, the state has abandoned the supply and now intends to use midazolam; this was after the U.S. Supreme Court approved the use of midazolam in Oklahoma.

The last person to be executed in Mississippi was Gary Simmons in June 2012.