Virginia Executes Inmate Ricky Gray With Controversial Drug Cocktail

By McCarton Ackerman 01/23/17

Gray’s lawyers had petitioned to delay the execution due to the use of the controversial drug, midazolam.

drug cocktail
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Despite arguments against lethal injection “cocktails,” a Virginia inmate who killed two families had his execution move forward as scheduled.

Reuters reported that Ricky Gray, 39, died by lethal injection last Wednesday evening (Jan. 18). He had been sentenced to death for the 2006 murders of four-year-old Ruby Harvey and nine-year-old Stella Harvey, in addition to their parents, Bryan and Kathryn. Gray and his accomplice, Ray Dandridge, also killed 21-year-old Ashley Baskerville, along her mother, Mary Tucker, and stepfather, Percyell Tucker.

Gray’s lawyers filed an emergency petition on Tuesday (Jan. 17) to delay the execution, arguing the combination of compounded lethal drugs could cause unnecessary anguish and therefore violate constitutional guarantees against cruel and unusual punishment.

A three-drug combination was used for the execution. According to Reuters, it was the first time a U.S. state had used two of the drugs, potassium chloride and midazolam, by a compounding pharmacy. Gray's attorneys noted that compounding pharmacies—which produce customized drugs—often follow an informal recipe for a drug cocktail that tries to replicate the patented process approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

According to CNN, states that still hand out the death penalty have been forced to seek alternative drugs to use in lethal injections, as some European drug makers refused to take part in the executions and banned exports of the drugs. Gray's attorneys also argued that midazolam—an anesthetic used in place of sodium thiopental or pentobarbital to first put the prisoner to sleep—had failed to render prisoners unconscious during executions in four other states.

Despite these efforts, Gray's execution was carried out at the Greensville Correctional Center on January 18. Virginia Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lisa Kinney told reporters afterwards that there did not appear to be any issues with the drug cocktail. Gray’s execution was the second so far in the U.S. this year. The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) shows that more than 1,450 people have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

Meanwhile, Ohio is taking efforts to avoid unnecessary anguish during executions. State officials announced at the beginning of the month that prisons will use flumazenil if there are complications from the midazolam used during the execution.

ABC News reported that Gary Mohr, director of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said during a testimony in federal court that he is “not confident that (Ohio), in fact, can achieve a successful execution. I want to reverse the effects of this.” 

During the December 16 execution of Alabama inmate Ronald Bert Smith Jr. in which he was given midazolam, DPIC contributor Michael Radelet said that “Smith heaved, gasped and coughed while struggling for breath for 13 minutes after the lethal drugs were administered, and death was pronounced 34 minutes after the execution began.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.