·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Lawsuits & Litigation

Tennessee Prisoners Say State Doesn’t Have Right Drugs for Lethal Injections

— January 30, 2020

But a Republican representative says the lawsuit is nothing but a desperate ploy by inmates’ attorneys.

Five death row inmates have filed a lawsuit against the Tennessee Department of Corrections, claiming the state may not have all the drugs it needs to carry out lethal injections.

WTVF reports that the complaint was filed in federal court Tuesday. The brief includes a series of e-mails, exchanged between corporate pharmacists and prison officials, which suggest the state’s struggling to source vecuronium.

Vecuronium, adds WTVF, is one of only three drugs Tennessee has approved to fulfill death sentences. It is the second substance administered in an execution, functioning as a paralytic agent which stops inmates’ breathing.

While Tennessee executed a prisoner as recently as last May, its supply of vecuronium has since expired. The lawsuit notes that, despite the state’s protests, “it does not appear that Defendants have procured a new supply,” citing as evidence an invoice detailing the purchase of other lethal injection drugs but not vecuronium.

Image via Jochenpippir/Pixabay. Public domain.

Other excerpts from the e-mail exchange make it appear that Tennessee is growing increasingly desperate, unable to find manufacturers and pharmacies willing to supply the kinds of drugs used in most executions. For instance, the lawsuit claims that officials were considering doing away with the three-drug execution cocktail altogether, reverting back to pentobarbital.

But pentobarbital, says NewsChannel 5, is increasingly scarce—unable to source it domestically, prison officials wondered whether it’d be possible to import it from outside the United States.

“It’s possible that we could order it but getting it imported would be the issue,” one e-mail says. “The DEA has already advised us that they do not allow the importation of drugs that are considered ‘readily available’ in the US. There may be a loop hole in there given that the product is not technically ‘readily available.’”

Dorinda Carter, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Corrections, told NewsChannel 5 that it’s unable to comment either on the case’s specifics or the status of its lethal injection drugs.

“We are involved in active litigation and it would be inappropriate to comment,” Carter said. “Any appropriate response would be in the context of litigation.”

However, state-level politicians have taken an offensive stance against the complaint. Republican Rep. William Lamberth told NewsChannel 5 he has no reason to believe the state’s unable to fulfill executions. In fact, Lamberth went so far as to claim the case is—for all intents and purposes—a fabrication, invented by desperate attorneys representing even more desperate clients.

“What you’re referring to s a filing by, quite frankly, desperate lawyers who are representing a client that has been on death row for decades, where they’re grasping at any straw they possibly can to stay this execution,” Lamberth told the news channel. “I understand at [sic] from a legal standpoint why they would put that out there. But at this juncture, there’s no evidence whatsoever that there’s a factual basis to it.”


Lawmaker says those behind execution drug lawsuit are ‘grasping at any straw’

Lawsuit: Prison officials can’t find the drugs they need to carry out death row executions

Join the conversation!