Texas Judge Halts Executions Over Drug Supply Source

By Paul Gaita 04/03/14

The controversy over the use of less effective execution drugs heated up in the Lone Star state over revealing the source of the supplier.


A judge in Texas has ordered prison officials there to reveal the name of the company providing lethal injection drugs for a pair of prisoners slated for execution this month.

U.S. District Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore ruled that convicted serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells, and Ramiro Hernandez Llanas, who was sentenced to die for the 1997 beating death of a rancher, would not be put to death on April 3 and 9, respectively, until the Texas Department of Criminal Justice reveals the name of the pharmacy providing pentobarbital for both executions. Covington’s ruling was the result of a lawsuit brought by Sells and Llanas against the state of Texas for information about both the supplier of the drugs that would bring about their deaths and the purity of the substance.

The suit is the third such action brought against a state by death row inmates, following the February 2014 actions by lawyers for murderers Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner against the state of Oklahoma and Michael Taylor, who challenged the state of Missouri’s decision to use an unregulated compounding agency to provide the drug for his execution.

Though Taylor was eventually executed on February 25, and Lockett and Warner are scheduled to die on April 20 and 29, respectively, their cases, along with that of Sells and Llanas, have focused national attention on the severe shortage of drugs used for executions in America. This issue has given rise to a stay of execution for many death row inmates while state law officials attempt to determine just how to carry out these sentences, as well as the controversial use of combined drugs by compounding pharmacies unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The combo drugs have been connected to several cases of undue suffering on the part of inmates during execution, most notably Michael Lee Wilson in Oklahoma.

In the case of Sells and Llanas, lawyers for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice unsuccessfully argued that revealing the names of compounding agencies supplying pentobarbital and other drugs has resulted in threats against the companies and their employees. The state lost its previous supplier in 2013 after the pharmacy was made public, and believes that a similar scenario will unfold if the ruling forces them to identify the new pharmacy, which replaced the state’s supply of pentobarbital after the previous batch expired on April 1.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.