Top Tennessee prison officials fired after report finds ‘shocking’ issues with death penalty drugs

Drug maker didn’t follow state protocol, report finds

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Monday 23 January 2023 22:05 GMT
<p>The state of Tennessee’s execution chamber at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution </p>

The state of Tennessee’s execution chamber at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution

Two top Tennessee corrections officials have been fired, following a report that found “shocking” issues with the state’s death penalty protocols.

Debra Inglis, general counsel at the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC), and Kelly Young, former TDOC inspector, were informed of their termination on 27 December, the Tennessean reports.

Earlier that month, a scathing report produced by former US Attorney Edward Stanson and the law firm Butler Snow found that state’s execution process suffered from “a tunnel-vision, result-oriented lens” without “any checks and balances whatsoever.”

The Independent contacted TDOC for coment.

The inquiry’s conclusions are “troubling” and “shocking,” federal public defender Kelley Henry said in a statement following the report’s release, the Equal Justice Initiative reports.

“What we learned today is that secrecy in our state’s execution process breeds a lack of accountability, sloppiness, and a high risk of horrifying mistakes,” she said.

The probe, ordered last year by Republican governor Bill Lee, found that the state failed to tell the pharmacy where its lethal injection drugs are made to test for contaminants, and didn’t give the pharmacy a copy of its execution protocols.

What’s more, the report found, executions are carried out in Tennessee by an execution with no formal medical training, and that none of the seven executions carried out since 2018 used drugs that were tested for issues.

Those outside of TDOC had long warned of the holes in the state’s process.

The report found that a pharmacist told the state under the influence of midazolam, one of the sedatives used in the state’s three-drug cocktail, “the subjects may be able to feel pain from the administration of the second and third drugs.”

During a 2018 lawsuit before the US Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the protocol was likely to cause “several minutes of torturous pain.”

Executions continued anyway until May 2022, when governor Lee called off the execution of inmate Oscar Smith with an hour to spare, citing an “oversight in preparations.”

The governor then ordered a moratorium on executions in the state until a review could take place.

“I review each death penalty case and believe it is an appropriate punishment for heinous crimes,” Mr Lee said in a statement at the time. “However, the death penalty is an extremely serious matter, and I expect the Tennessee Department of Correction to leave no question that procedures are correctly followed.”

About one-third of executions in the US were botched in 2022, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Most pharmaceutical companies won’t sell their medicines for use in executions, leaving states to navigate the opaque world of compound pharmacies to produce and procure the drugs.

Some states have laws on the books shielding the identities of pharmacies which supply executions, further complicating oversight.

On Friday, Arizona governor Katie Hobbs put executions on hold to make way for an independent review of lethal injection procedures, following the lead of states like Alabama and governor Kay Ivey, who did the same in November.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in