One of two executions in Texas will continue as scheduled, following an earlier legal ruling that resulted in a temporary delay. Earlier today, a Houston judge halted the executions of two men after their lawyers argued that the drug used to carry out their executions might constitute cruel and unusual punishment. The source of the lethal drug, pentobarbital, had previously been withheld; the judge ruled that the lawyers were unable to challenge whether a new batch of pentobarbital was tainted without knowing where the lethal drug originated.
Prisoners want to know if the pentobarbital is tainted
"Texas law does not specify what substance will be used in carrying out lethal injections, but federal law requires that any protocol or method used cannot violate the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment," wrote US District Judge Vanessa Gilmore in a five-page order quoted by the Austin American-Statesman. "Until plaintiffs have full disclosure of the product with which Texas will cause their death, they cannot fully develop a challenge to its process."
Gilmore's order was later overturned by a federal appeals court, which ruled that the effort was meant to delay the executions, reports the Associated Press. That's put one execution back on schedule for tomorrow, though the other prisoner's case could still be heard ahead of his execution next week.
The disclosure left out key details
The effort to halt the executions is the most recent in a series of cases questioning the drug used to execute death row prisoners. As The Verge reported in October, the company that for years produced Texas’ execution drug backed out of its contract with the state, causing a shortage of lethal drugs for the state that executes the most people in the country. The state was able to find a compounding pharmacy that would work up essentially a generic form of its lethal drug, but the name of that pharmacy — and the contents of its generic drug — have remained a mystery.
Gilmore’s order was critical of lawyers representing the State of Texas, according to the Statesman, for handing over a redacted, "last-minute disclosure" about the lethal drug’s potency. That disclosure left out key details, the judge wrote, and her order requests un-redacted information about the drug’s supplier and lab tests performed on the drug.
"The District Court's Order honors and reflects the crucial importance of transparency in the execution process," wrote Maurie Levin and Jonathan Ross, attorneys for the death row prisoners, in a joint statement to The Verge. "We hope that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice will finally decide to comply with the law, and cease attempting to shroud in secrecy one aspect of their job that, above all others, should be conducted in the light of day."
Update April 2nd 6:11PM: Read Judge Gilmore's order in full here. A spokesperson for Texas' Attorney General told the Associated Press he plans to appeal the order. This story was updated with a quote from the prisoners' lawyers.
Update April 2nd, 7:30PM: The Associated Press reports that a federal appeals court has overturned the earlier ruling, putting one of the executions back on schedule. This story, including the headline, has been updated throughout given that new information.