The latest legal argument over the death penalty in Texas is a tough one, but not so tough as to make it anything less than clear how the argument should be resolved.
Offenders subject to the ultimate punishment by the state’s chosen method, lethal injection, have a right to know all there is to know about the drug to be used to kill them, including the source of that drug.
Disputes arose anew last week when lawyers for two Death Row inmates filed suit seeking to learn the state’s newest source for pentobarbital, a barbiturate that’s used to treat seizures and to cause people to fall asleep for surgery but is powerful enough to kill in high doses.
Tommy Lynn Sells, 49, had been scheduled to die Thursday for the 1999 sexual assault and stabbing death of a 13-year-old girl in Del Rio.
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Ramiro Hernandez-Llanas, 44, was convicted and sent to Death Row for a 1997 murder and rape in Kerrville. His scheduled execution date was set for April 9.
The Department of Criminal Justice has said it has received a new supply of pentobarbital but declined to name the source. The drug has become difficult to obtain after manufacturers banned sales for use in lethal injections, and some states have turned to compounding pharmacies for supplies.
Lawyers for the two inmates argued that they were entitled to know the source in order to investigate the risk of unconstitutionally cruel pain during the execution.
State lawyers said suppliers face threats if they are named.
On Thursday, state District Judge Suzanne Covington ordered the state to disclose the source to the inmates’ attorneys, with disclosure to the public to await a further decision.
A three-judge panel of the 3rd Texas Court of Appeals upheld that order on Friday, but later the same day the state Supreme Court halted the case “pending further order of this court.”
Texas has been adamant in carrying out death sentences and has executed 512 people since 1982. The state’s power in these cases is extreme.
It is incumbent on a society bent on putting offenders to death to allow them wide latitude in fighting for their lives in well-ordered courts.
They may have been convicted of horrendous crimes, but the state must not lower itself to their level by inflicting cruel pain on them with improperly prepared execution drugs.