Prisons Run Low on Execution Drugs? Agency Withholds Details

By: Mike Ward, Austin American-Statesman
By: Mike Ward, Austin American-Statesman

Austin American-Statesman Article
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A new report surfaced on Tuesday that Texas again might be running out of a key drug used to execute its condemned criminals, but state prison officials said that they have enough to carry out the next six scheduled executions.

What happens after that might be anyone's guess, thanks to a new no-disclosure policy imposed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on details about the execution drugs.

Two years ago, the prison system revealed its drug supplier and the amount of drugs on hand after Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued an opinion saying it was public information. The prison system had sought to keep the information secret, arguing that releasing details about the drug supply might trigger violent protests outside the execution chamber or embolden death penalty opponents.

Prison system spokesman Jason Clark said Tuesday that the agency is seeking another opinion from the attorney general on the execution drug information "because the law has changed and due to changing circumstances."

Specifically, Clark said, a state Supreme Court ruling last July could have changed the situation. The case, filed by the Austin American-Statesman and other newspapers, sought travel vouchers for the governor's security detail under the Texas Public Information Act.

In that case, the Supreme Court ruled, for the first time, that safety concerns might trump laws mandating public disclosure of information that reveals how a government spends taxpayer money.

Texas operates the busiest death chamber in the United States, executing more than twice as many prisoners last year as any other state — 13 in all. Its execution practices have made it a target of death penalty opponents for years.

The Guardian, a British newspaper, reported Tuesday that Texas has only enough pentobarbital on hand to complete six executions "and may be incapable of carrying out further death sentences after June."

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