Sudden appearance of execution drug questioned

November 8, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
California reportedly has enough of a scarce lethal injection drug to go ahead with up to four executions.

The U.S. maker of sodium thiopental has said the company will not make any more batches until next year, and opposes its use for capital punishment. But somehow California procured some. Seven of the 700-plus death row inmates have exhausted all of their appeals and are eligible to be executed.

Somewhere in San Quentin, the state has locked up a new supply of scarce sodium thiopental, one of the drugs used to execute death row inmates.

All the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation would say is the department obtained it legally and within the United States.

Even Governor Schwarzenegger isn't saying.

"Have I seen it? The drug? No. But apparently we have it in the state," said Schwarzenegger.

In court filings, the state says it has obtained 12 grams with an expiration date of 2014, enough to execute four inmates. The expiration date was an issue when convicted rapist and murderer Albert Greenwood Brown was set to be executed September 30, but wasn't.

Because the last stock of sodium thiopental the state had expired that day, a judge called off the execution, citing the drug's shelf life as one of the reasons.

Now death penalty advocates are calling on executions to resume. They say it doesn't matter where the drug came from.

"As long as it's a real drug manufacturer, and not just something cooked in up in a garage, it really doesn't matter," said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.

"These are cases that have been pending 20-plus years, and it's high time justice was carried out in these cases."

But death penalty opponents say where the drug comes from does matter.

They want to know whether the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment is followed.

"We've got to have some facts and if they want to keep it under a veil of secrecy, then there's no way to know if it's being done humanely or not," said Ellen Eggers, founding member of the Sacramento chapter of Death Penalty Focus.

It's unclear when executions will resume in California. There hasn't been one in nearly five years. With drug supply no longer an issue, the Dept. of Corrections says other pending lawsuits on the death penalty are causing delays.


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