A report released Sunday by the ACLU of Texas says procedures for euthanizing animals in the state are more regulated than the protocol for executing inmates on death row.
Regulating Death in the Lone Star State: Texas Law Protects Lizards From Needless Suffering, but not Human Beings says the state has a “lax attitude regarding the taking of human life,” compared to detailed regulations that govern euthanizing animals.
The report comes about two weeks after Texas prison officials announced a switch to a new drug, pentobarbital, in the mixture used for lethal injection. Last week, two inmates filed a lawsuit claiming the new procedure is invalid because the change was made without public input. One of the inmates, Cleve Foster of Tarrant County, is scheduled to die Tuesday.
“We’re just calling for the same kind of transparency and expert advice that’s used in a different context, the context of euthanizing animals,” said Lisa Graybill, legal director of the ACLU. The ACLU calls in the report for more public scrutiny of how the state manages executions.
A spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice declined to comment. But a department handbook sets specific standards for training and rules for carrying out executions.
Death penalty supporter Dudley Sharp called the report “complete, utter nonsense” and said it is an effort by capital punishment opponents to try to stop or delay executions. Pentobarbital has been used in other states, he said, and lethal injection is “the most litigated method of putting people to death in the history of the United States.”
According to the ACLU report, when an animal is euthanized, several Texas laws regulate “everything from the lighting in the room to the dosage of the drugs.” In addition, animal euthanasia drugs are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which specifies the formula to be used and the amount, according to body weight.
But the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, the state law governing most justice procedures in Texas, simply states that executions shall be carried out “by intravenous injection of a substance or substances in a lethal quantity sufficient to cause death.”
The decision to switch to pentobarbital was a policy decision made by the director of the institutional division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, who has no medical training.
When pentobarbital is used to euthanize animals, it is used by itself, not in combination with other drugs, such as those used in Texas executions. The Texas lethal injection mixture includes two other drugs: pancuronium bromide to paralyze the muscles and potassium chloride to stop breathing.
04/01/11 | San Francisco Chronicle
Would disabled receive better care in prison?
I’m beginning to hope my son will be sent to prison – perhaps Death Row.
Rob stands accused of no crime. And I am not an unloving mother. Let me explain: Rob has a developmental disability, and California is balancing its budget by gutting the services that keep him alive.
The situation is dire enough that I must wonder: Once Rob’s services are cut, will Death Row be a safer place for him?
I know that every program is getting cut. But the single largest budget cut just signed into law by the governor – $568.6 million – is for services for people with developmental disabilities.
For Rob, and 246,000 other Californians like him, that money went to get him to medical appointments, to manage his finances and – hopefully – to have someone look out for his safety after his father and I are no longer alive.
It is shameful that the most vulnerable citizens are receiving the largest share of the pain. Rob was born 31 years ago, legally blind, with cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities. Today he is healthy, employed, living with a roommate and paying his taxes. The essential programs that made this possible are supposedly guaranteed by legislation signed by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1969, the Lanterman Act. The law directs the state to provide people with disabilities like autism and Down syndrome with access to housing, health care and employment. For people with developmental disabilities, the Lanterman Act was equivalent to the Bill of Rights, except more important. Without its practical support, many could not survive outside of grim old-fashioned state institutions (which were vastly more expensive – and now mostly have closed).
Texas death row inmate gets reprieve
HUNTSVILLE, Texas – The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the first scheduled execution of a Texas death row inmate using a new drug cocktail on Tuesday, although the proposed lethal mix was not mentioned in the court’s decision to reconsider the merits of the condemned man’s appeal.
Cleve Foster was to have been executed hours later for the 2002 slaying of a Sudanese woman in Fort Worth — the first Texas execution since the state switched to pentobarbital in its three-drug mixture. The sedative has already been used for executions in Oklahoma and Ohio.
On Tuesday morning, the high court agreed to reconsider its January order denying Foster’s appeal that raised claims of innocence and poor legal help during his trial and early stages of his appeals.
Foster’s lawyers also have argued that Texas prison officials violated administrative procedures last month when they announced the switch to pentobarbital from sodium thiopental, which is in short supply nationwide. Foster’s lawyers contend that the rules change in Texas required more time for public comment and review. Lower courts have rejected their appeals and attorneys had planned to take their case to the Texas Supreme Court.
At the same time, defense lawyers sought a rehearing before the U.S. Supreme Court on the high court’s rejection of an appeal in January. At that time, it stopped Foster’s execution at the last moment, then rejected his claims a week later, clearing the way for Tarrant County authorities to schedule the execution for Tuesday.
In its brief ruling, the court gave prosecutors 30 days to respond to the defense petition, after which the Supreme Court will decide if the appeal has merit.
Foster’s defense team said they are encouraged by the ruling.
“It’s not a common procedural posture,” Maurie Levin, a University of Texas law professor and one of Foster’s attorneys, said. “We’re very happy for the stay and that the Supreme Court will be looking at important issues raised.”
The execution drug issue was not before the U.S. Supreme Court and the court’s order did not mention it.
The drug swap is the most significant change in the execution procedure in Texas since the state switched from the electric chair to lethal injection when it reinstated capital punishment in 1982. Pentobarbital is a sedative used in surgery and to euthanize animals.
Levin said the reprieve, while not related to the drug change, would allow for additional examination of the new execution procedure and “give Texas more time to do it right.”
Beginning in December 1982, Texas executed 466 inmates using a series of three drugs including sodium thiopental, an anesthetic. Two people have been put to death this year. At least six are set to die in the coming months, including one in May.
Foster, 47, blames his conviction on lawyers he didn’t trust, what he called false testimony from police and prosecutors he contends misled jurors.
“To me, they were pretty much pulling stuff out of their hats,” he told The Associated Press previously from death row.
Foster has long insisted that his friend, Sheldon Ward, was responsible for fatally shooting Nyaneur Pal, 30, in February 2002.