Judge orders Arkansas to disclose source of execution drugs

AP News
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Posted: Oct 12, 2015 8:24 PM

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas was ordered Monday to release information about its supplier of lethal injection drugs to attorneys for death row inmates who are challenging the state's execution secrecy law.

Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen said the state must identify the manufacturers, distributor, seller or supplier of Arkansas' three lethal injections drugs by Oct. 21. That would include turning over package inserts, shipping labels, laboratory test results and other information to the court and the inmates' attorneys.

Or, the state can submit a request for a protective order for the drug manufacturer and supplier information, Griffen said.

It will be up to the state attorney general to decide what's included in that request. The office could ask Griffen to uphold the state's secrecy law as it's written, which requires information about the source of the drugs to be kept under wraps. It could also ask that if the source is shared with the inmates' attorneys, they be barred from releasing it to anyone else.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge "is considering her options," according to Judd Deere, a spokesman for the AG's office, which is representing the Department of Correction in the lawsuit. Deere said the office would have no further comment Monday.

Jeff Rosenzweig, an attorney for the inmates, said he and the other counsel would not comment on the order.

Griffen temporarily halted executions for eight inmates who were scheduled for lethal injections between Oct. 21 and Jan. 14 in a ruling Friday.

His order Monday also set a March 1 hearing date for the inmates' request to permanently halt executions under the state's secrecy law.

Arkansas is among a handful of states with laws that allow prison officials to withhold information about execution drugs. Judges in some other states where the laws have been challenged, including neighboring Missouri, have ordered the disclosure of the manufacturers, but in most cases the disclosure didn't happen because the states were successful in appealing the rulings.

Last month, The Associated Press identified three pharmaceutical companies that likely made Arkansas' execution drugs; each company said they object to their drugs being used that way. One of the companies has said it is pressing the Department of Correction for confirmation that Arkansas has obtained its drugs but hasn't heard back. The state has said it cannot respond under the secrecy law.

The state's three-drug protocol includes the sedative midazolam, the paralytic vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride, which would stop the inmate's heart. The state purchased the drugs in late June for about $24,000.

The vecuronium bromide in the state's medical storage safe will expire in June 2016. The potassium chloride expires in January 2017, while the midazolam expires in April 2017. Midazolam was implicated after executions last year in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma went on longer than expected, with inmates gasping and groaning as they died.

The death row inmates are challenging the constitutionality of Arkansas' secrecy law, including whether it violates a previous settlement agreement from a different lawsuit where the state agreed to tell the inmates the source of the lethal drugs.

The state has argued that agreement is not a current binding contract because a final ruling was issued in March.