Pennsylvania governor stays execution of killer, citing shortage of lethal drugs

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 12, 2014 5:01 PM

By David DeKok

HARRISBURG Pa. (Reuters) - Pennsylvania's governor granted a reprieve to a condemned murderer on death row on Friday because the state did not have the drugs needed to put him to death.

Governor Tom Corbett granted the temporary reprieve for Hubert Michael, 58, who was scheduled for execution by lethal injection on Sept. 22 for the 1994 murder of 16-year-old Trista Eng.

"Today's signing of the temporary reprieve was necessary to allow the Department of Corrections to complete its acquisition of the injection agents required to carry out lethal injection as mandated by Pennsylvania law," the governor's office said.

Botched executions in Oklahoma and other states have been blamed on a new drug combination used to replace traditional execution drugs in short supply after various manufacturers, especially in Europe, refused to supply prisons because they oppose capital punishment.

After a years-long court battle over Michael's fate, Corbett in July had signed a fourth warrant for execution, setting the date for Sept. 22. But soon afterwards, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of execution. Since the stay could be lifted at any time, Corbett acted on Friday to halt the process until the drugs can be obtained.

He vowed to sign a fifth warrant for execution once the drugs are in hand.

"I am committed to carrying out the sentence of the court and giving Trista Eng and her family the justice they deserve," Corbett said in the statement.

Eng was kidnapped after Michael offered her a ride while she was walking to her summer job at a fast-food restaurant in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania.

Drug manufacturer Hospira has cut off supplies of sodium thiopental, which had been used as a sedative in a three-drug cocktail for U.S. executions. States then turned to pentobarbital, but Danish manufacturer Lunbeck has asked its U.S. distributor not to allow the drug to be used in executions, according to Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Pennsylvania corrections officials have been unable to obtain supplies of sodium pentobarbitol, used to render the condemned prisoner unconscious, pancuronium bromide, which stops breathing, and potassium chloride, which stops the heart, said department spokeswoman Susan McNaughton.

Lawsuits were filed against the corrections department this week, one by Michael’s lawyers, who object to changes in the three-drug protocol, and another by the American Civil Liberties Union and several newspapers, which demand to know the source of the new execution drug combination.

McNaughton would not comment on the lawsuits.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg)