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Drugs Used to Execute Inmates Too Painful to Use on Animals

A bipartisan think tank has recommended that states use a one-drug cocktail, not the three-drug combo that led to the recent botched execution of Clayton Lockett.

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Oklahoma State Capitol. Shutterstock

By Paul Gaita

05/08/14

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A new report on death penalty procedures reveals that the three-drug cocktail used to execute inmates is banned from use by veterinarians for being too painful for use on animals.

The report, published by The Constitution Project, a bipartisan think tank comprised of former and current law enforcement and government officials as well as educators, states that a one-drug method should be employed in executions in order to “decrease the problems associated with drug administration and eliminate the risks from using paralyzing or painful chemical agents.”

The single drug cocktail method, which consists of a lethal dose of an anesthetic or barbiturate, is preferred by vets who euthanize animals because it is not only less painful but also largely error-free. The three-drug method currently employed by many states has resulted in apparently botched execution attempts like the one endured by Clayton Lockett, a convicted murderer who appeared to struggle against his restraints before suffering a fatal heart attack during an execution carried out in Oklahoma in late April.

Among the report’s other recommendations for overhauling the death penalty process: full transparency on how drugs used for execution purposes are obtained, which remains a hotly contested issue in states like Oklahoma, Florida, and Texas, where defense attorneys for death row inmates have been unsuccessful in pressing state prison officials to reveal the source of their drugs. The report also suggested that custodial interviews with murder suspects should be videotaped “when practical,” and juries should be allowed to consider the lack of such a recording in regard to using such interviews as evidence.

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