Texas prison chief: Execution drug will be found

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas’ prison director said Friday he was optimistic the state would find the drug sodium thiopental or an alternative to carry out executions after Texas’ supply expires at the end of March.

“We’re working hard with individuals within our agency, our state government, to resolve this issue, and I’m confident we’ll be able to,” Rick Thaler, director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Institutional Division, told The Associated Press outside a Texas prison board meeting. “I think we continue to look at the landscape of opportunity we have out there, as other states are.”

Thaler said the issue has been a top priority within the agency for several months.

Sodium thiopental is one of three drugs used in the lethal mixture given to condemned killers in Texas and a number of other states, but the sole manufacturer in the U.S. has suspended production and supplies elsewhere have become scarce.

Two executions are scheduled this month, including one next week. Another is set for early April, days after the current Texas supply expires.

“I don’t think we’re taking any options off the table,” he said. “Hopefully, by the time we get there, we’ll have a resolution of the situation.”

Death row inmate Cleve Foster recently was given an April 5 execution date for the abduction-rape slaying of a woman nine years ago in Tarrant County. Foster was set to die last month, but the U.S. Supreme Courtstopped the punishment at the last minute to consider an appeal. That appeal subsequently was rejected and Foster was given his new date.

“I don’t think anyone was surprised when we had one scheduled,” said Thaler, who often is the prison administrator in Huntsville, the nation’s busiest death chamber, and gives the warden the word to move forward with the punishment. “As it has been historically in Texas, we normally have one scheduled at least every month.”

At the board meeting, Brad Livingston, the agency’s executive director, said talks were continuing with state lawmakers regarding the proposed 2012-13 budget. The Senate version of the budget would cut the department’s funding by $550 million. The House’s proposed budget would slash $750 million.

Livingston called them “starting points.”

“I don’t think it’s fair to assume the final budget in late May will reflect what either of those budgets has now,” he said. “The Legislature is really just now beginning the hearing process.”

“We’re likely to see several ideas or processes come out,” Board of Criminal Justice Chairman Oliver Bell said.

Livingston warned budget challenges still remain for this year, and although the numbers may be smaller, they’re more urgent. He also warned additional financial cuts for this year could lead to some job losses.

“We don’t have a final determination yet what the cuts look like,” he said. “I think it’s becoming increasingly clear as we move through this process some reductions in force will be likely.”

Agency officials did not have numbers but said they would be administrative positions.

Among the board’s routine approvals for expenditures over $1 million, one contract approved Friday was for replacement of plumbing fixtures in several cellblocks at the Clemens Unit south of Houston. Prison officials said the new stainless steel fixtures would replace deteriorating porcelain fixtures original to the prison, built in 1893.

Board member Terrell McCombs said he doubted the old equipment still was under warranty. And Bell suggested that as a way of generating revenue for the state, the old fixtures be sold as antiques on e-Bay.

 

MICHAEL GRACZYK

 

 

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