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Texas Must Come Clean on Death Drugs

AUSTIN (CN) - Texas must disclose to two death-row inmates who supplies its execution drugs, a state judge ruled Thursday.

Travis County Judge Suzanne Covington ordered the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to turn over the information to the attorneys of convicted murderers Tommy Lynn Sells and Ramiro Hernandez Llanes.

Both men are scheduled to die in April.

Sells was convicted in 1999 of slashing the throats of 13-year-old and 10-year-old girls. The older girl died.

Hernandez was convicted of beating to death his ranch owner-employer near Kerrville in 1997.

The inmates sued the state on Wednesday in Travis County Court, demanding the state turn over the information under the Texas Public Information Act.

Texas and other death penalty states face the task of securing new sources of pentobarbital after anti-death penalty advocates persuaded large pharmaceutical manufacturers not to make or sell the drugs to U.S. authorities. Compounding pharmacies are now being relied upon to make the drugs.

The inmates claim the compounded pentobarbital replacements used in executions in other states have caused problems, including the Jan. 9 execution of Michael Lee Wilson in Oklahoma. His last words were of his "whole body burning" after he was injected.

Prison officials have been waiting on Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's opinion on the question of supplier disclosure, but the plaintiffs contend there is not enough time given how soon the executions are scheduled.

"Even if defendants expedited the filing of that request - which they have not said they will do - the attorney general will not be able to write an opinion before Mr. Sells' April 3rd scheduled execution," the complaint states.

"The timing of the TDCJ's statement that they will not disclose the requested information reflects an effort to use improper procedural delay to conceal information that Mr. Sells and Mr. Hernandez Llanas have a right to under state law and state and federal constitutional law. As such, plaintiffs have been forced to file this petition and request for emergency relief regarding these truly 'life and death' issues with such potentially drastic consequences."

Assistant Attorney General Nicole-Bunker Henderson told Judge Covington during Thursday's hearing that recent threats against the execution drug suppliers resulted in the need for secrecy. She said law enforcement threat assessments suggest pharmacists who make the drugs may face physical harm.

Plaintiffs' attorney Philip Durst, with Deats Durst in Austin, disagreed. He said his client have the right to know where the drugs came from and details about their doses and purity.

"Maybe this stuff was laced with strychnine off the street," Durst said. "We don't know, and they need to know before they inflict the ultimate penalty."

Jason Clark, spokesman for the TDCJ, said it would appeal the ruling.

Follow @davejourno
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