Death Penalty Drugs Bill Advances

May 5, 2014

 If you can’t get lethal injection drugs, how do you impose the death penalty?

"We have the death sentence. Whether some of you agree with that or disagree with it, that's what we have,” said House Criminal Justice committee chairman Joe Lopinto. “If we're going to have that we need to be able, as a state, to follow through with that order."

Lopinto was speaking of the problem currently facing all lethal injection states—access to the authorized execution drugs. The bill being debated would have—as originally drafted—reauthorized electrocution as an alternative method of implementing the death penalty. Lopinto was amending the measure to instead combat the problem of access to the drugs.

“So you’re pulling the plug on the electric chair?” asked New Iberia Representative Terry Landry, in one of the few moments of levity during the hearing.

The state is currently awaiting a federal court decision on how to implement the planned execution of Christopher Sepulvado. Sepulvado was scheduled to die in February for the 1992 beating and scalding death of his 6-year-old stepson. Attorneys for the convicted killer have gotten a stay, while the court sorts out which drugs will be used.

Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said the state wants to use a two-drug combo, but access to those medications is becoming increasingly restricted.

"To give you an example of the frustration we deal with, the two-drug protocol calls for versed and dilaudid, which actually is used legitimately for cancer patients and hospice patients.,” LeBlanc explained. “And both of those drugs--as it stands today--we cannot purchase."

"But these drugs are used for other things, other than putting to death so I'm not understanding why that’s the case?” Shreveport Representative Roy Burrell asked.

“They won’t sell to corrections,” LeBlanc responded. “If they know we’re using that drug to execute, they will not sell.”

It’s bad public relations for drugmakers, and death penalty opponents are using that information to pressure the pharmaceutical companies. In the Sepulvado case, the convicted killer’s attorneys have demanded the state to divulge both the distributor and manufacturer of the drugs that will be used for the execution.

Lopinto’s bill, as amended, would now shield the sources of the death drugs.

"It basically puts an exception in for a public records request,” Lopinto explained. “If someone is asking, 'Where did you obtain that?' we don't have to provide where."

The Criminal Justice committee approved the amended bill. Since it now involves shielding public records, the measure must also gain approval from the House and Governmental Affairs committee before it can go to the full House for a vote.