Supreme Court Allows Lethal Injection of Texas Serial Killer Despite Questions About Execution Drugs

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
April 3 2014 9:26 PM

Supreme Court Allows Lethal Injection of Texas Serial Killer Despite Questions About Execution Drugs

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The Wynne Unit in Huntsville is one of the seven prison units in Walker County, Texas.

Photo by CHANTAL VALERY/AFP/Getty Images

Serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells was put to death on Thursday in Texas after the Supreme Court refused to intervene in the case. The lawyers for Sells, who, according to the Associated Press, claims to have committed as many as 70 killings across the country, argued that “they needed to know the name of the pharmacy now providing the state with pentobarbital used during executions in order to verify the drug's quality and protect Sells from unconstitutional pain and suffering,” the AP reports. Sells was the first to be executed with a new supply of the drug pentobarbital.

Here’s more on Sells’ Supreme Court appeal for a stay from the AP:

Sells' lawyers had made a plea to the Supreme Court earlier in the day after a federal appeals court on Wednesday allowed the execution to remain on schedule. A lower court had stopped the execution Wednesday, ordering the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to reveal more information about its drug supplier, but the ruling was quickly tossed on appeal… The Supreme Court, like the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, sided with Texas prison officials, who argued that information about the drug supplier must be kept secret to protect the pharmacy from threats of violence. The high court justices did not elaborate on why they made the decision, which came about an hour before Sells' scheduled execution. State attorneys argued the new pentobarbital stock falls within the acceptable ranges of potency. Sells' attorneys said they had no way of confirming that.
The Supreme Court last month rejected similar arguments from a Missouri inmate's attorneys who challenged the secrecy surrounding where that state obtained its execution drugs, and the condemned prisoner was put to death. Questions about the source of execution drugs have arisen in several states in recent months as numerous drugmakers — particularly in Europe, where opposition to capital punishment is strongest — have refused to sell their products if they will be used in executions. That's led several state prison systems to compounding pharmacies, which are not as heavily regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as more conventional pharmacies. A batch of pentobarbital that Texas purchased from a compounding pharmacy in suburban Houston expired at the end of March. The pharmacy refused to sell the state any more drugs, citing threats it received after its name was made public.

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.