NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Governor Bill Lee suspended executions in Tennessee for the rest of the year on Monday after revealing the state failed to ensure its lethal injection drugs were properly tested. Oblivion forced Lee to abruptly stop the execution of Oscar Smith an hour before he died last month.
Lee initially did not reveal the reason for stopping Smith’s execution, other than to say that there was an “oversight” in the preparation of the lethal injection drugs. Tennessee enforcement protocols require all compound drugs to be independently tested for potency, sterility, and endotoxins. In his Monday statement, Lee said Smith’s execution drugs had been tested for potency and sterility, but not for endotoxins.
Smith’s lawyers had called for a moratorium on executions and an independent review of the issues Last week. In a statement Monday, Federal Public Defender Kelley Henry said the Republican governor’s decision showed “great leadership.”
“The use of compound drugs in the context of lethal injection is fraught with risk,” Henry said. “Not testing for endotoxin is a violation of protocol. Governor Lee did the right thing by stopping executions because of this violation.”
Lee appointed former U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton to examine the circumstances that led to the failure. It will also review the clarity of the state’s lethal injection manual and review the staffing of the Tennessee Department of Corrections, Lee said in a statement.
“I review every death penalty case and believe it is appropriate punishment for heinous crimes,” Lee said. “However, the death penalty is an extremely serious matter, and I expect the Tennessee Department of Corrections to leave no doubt that procedures are being followed correctly.”
The pause will remain in effect until the end of the year to allow time for review and corrective action, Lee said.
Many states turned to compound drugs after commercial drug makers began refusing to sell their drugs for executions, making drugs difficult to obtain for prison systems.
Frank Romanelli, professor of pharmacy at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy, explained the difference like this: “I can go buy a Hershey’s chocolate bar, or I can make one at home. They’re trying to make one at home, and they have to do some testing to make sure it’s equivalent.
The presence of endotoxins, which typically come from bacteria, could be an indication of problems with drug manufacturing, but endotoxins themselves would likely not be a problem in a delivery setting, Romanelli said. This is because endotoxins are usually not immediately lethal.
The tests would normally be done by a pharmacy that produces the drugs for a medical setting, and Romanelli suspects Tennessee waived those guidelines for its enforcement protocols.
“In their defense, they’re probably thinking, ‘Let’s keep this as clean as possible – as airtight as possible,'” Romanelli said.
At a Monday press conference, Lee said the testing issue was noticed shortly before the execution “because there are checklists done that day to make sure everything went right.” been done correctly”. And that process determined that there was one step not followed.” He added, “We hope this never happens again, and we will put in place a process to ensure that each step is followed correctly from of this day.”
Henry said last week that the day before the execution she asked for test results but received no response. Henry believes at least two of the three execution drugs were compounded rather than commercially manufactured, she said, though secrecy rules surrounding executions in Tennessee make it difficult to know for sure.
Tennessee and many other states have passed exemptions to open-record laws in recent years, hiding the identities of drug dealers and other information about secret executions.
It was through a public records request that Henry received heavily redacted documents from the state. last execution by lethal injection in 2019. She thinks the drugs in this case failed to pass the required tests. Drugs are supposed to be tested according to United States Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) standards. Henry said she believed these drugs were tested but using a standard from another country, likely because they came from overseas.
Lee’s statement says he has asked Stanton to review “adherence to testing policies” since the state’s lethal injection manual was last updated in 2018.
Although lethal injection has been adopted as a humane alternative to the electric chair, it has been the subject of constant problems and lawsuits.
“Every time people in my office raised issues, they had to make adjustments — whether it was the wrong drug, the wrong potency, or the USP,” Henry said at a press conference last week. .
Smith was sentenced to death for fatally stabbing and shooting his estranged wife, Judith Smith, and teenage sons, Jason and Chad Burnett, at their Nashville home on October 1, 1989.
Reynolds reported from Louisville, Kentucky. Jonathan Mattise contributed from Franklin, Tennessee.
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