Texas Accused of Using Expired Lethal Injections in Executions

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Two death row inmates in Texas claimed weeks before their execution that the lethal injection they would receive might contain an expired drug potentially causing unnecessary suffering, something prohibited by US law.
Inmates John Balentine and Wesley Ruiz petitioned a court at the end of 2022 to “prohibit” the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), in the southern United States, from using “expired substances” in executions .
According to the information they accessed, the TDCJ has a stock of pentobarbital – a substance that Texas uses in lethal injections – “long expired.”
“Given the antiquity of the drugs (…) the pentobarbital they intend to use (…) will act unpredictably, obstructing intravenous lines during execution and causing unnecessary pain,” the document stated with its arguments.
But the TDCJ assured in a statement to AFP that everything is in order. “The drugs for lethal injections are within their use-by dates and have been properly tested.”
In 27 of the country’s 50 states, including Texas, the death penalty is legal. Since 1982, when lethal injection began to be used in the country, 581 people have been executed in Texas, more than a third of the national total.
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-“Cruel punishment”-
Ruiz was convicted of killing a police officer in 2007 and Balentine for a triple murder in 1998. Both had also denounced racism in their respective trials.
In their statements they said that, with expired substances, his execution “would violate his right not to be subjected to cruel punishment.”
Following the claim, civil judge Catherine Mauzy ordered on January 10 a suspension of the executions due to the possibility that the pentobarbital stocks were expired, and because the TDCJ did not offer evidence to the contrary, according to press reports.
Her decision also benefited Robert Fratta, whose execution was scheduled for that same afternoon. But the Texas attorney general’s office went to a criminal appeals court, which threw out Mauzy’s decision.
Fratta, convicted of ordering the murder of his wife in 1994, was executed hours later. Ruiz received the lethal injection on February 1 and Balentine on February 8.
TDCJ attorney Leah O’Leary had said in January that they have used pentobarbital more than 90 times since 2013 and none of the effects described by the complainants have occurred. Its recent use in 2022 shows that it is “potent and effective,” she said, quoted by The Houston Chronicle.
Five more people are expected to be executed in Texas this year. Lawyers for some of them will continue with the lawsuit, at a hearing scheduled for March 20.
Between 1890 and 2010, more than 3% of executions in the United States were botched, according to the NGO Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), mainly by lethal injection.
There are several cases where the person being executed writhed or complained of pain and episodes, even recent ones, where it was difficult to find a vein for the condemned person to inject him. In 2022 alone, the DPIC recorded 7 executions with problems, two of them completely failed.
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-More than 1,300 days-
Some laboratories gave up years ago to commercialize products for executions. For nearly a decade, the lawyers say, Texas has been buying a “compound” pentobarbital, which some state pharmacies make up with a powdered ingredient.
In 2016, then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, now governor, ordered that the names of the providers be withheld to avoid retaliation.
In a report requested by the lawyers and brought to court, Michaela Almgren, MD, explained that a “compounded” drug has a maximum shelf life of 45 days if it is frozen.
According to records reviewed by Almgren, the last purchase up to the end of last year was made in March 2021, so any of those doses are more than 600 days old. Another batch of 2019 exceeds 1,300 days. However, new use limit dates have been set for September and November 2023, they denounced.
According to information from the Texas Tribune site, which cites TDCJ records, the practice of extending the expiration date for use of this drug dates back to at least 2017.
Almgren questioned that these changes are based only on the argument that the drug maintains its potency and does not check for degradation.
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-Increases pain-“It is alarming that Texas continues to carry out executions with expired pentobarbital, in violation of its own law,” Shawn Nolan, a lawyer for Ruiz and Balentine, told AFP.
Those drugs “have a limited shelf life and expired compounds are unreliable and unpredictable, increasing the risk of pain and suffering in the execution process,” he added.
“The risks of failed executions will increase if Texas continues to hide its processes, preventing access to basic information,” Nolan said.

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