A judge in Baton Rouge ruled Tuesday it would be premature to validate Louisiana’s lethal injection procedure for future executions because the lone U.S. manufacturer of a key drug used by the state has ended its production.
Hospira Inc., of Lake Forest, Ill., announced in January it was ending production of sodium thiopental, one of the drugs used by nearly three dozen states, including Louisiana, as part of a three-drug combination that sedates and paralyzes the inmate and stops the heart.
State District Judge Mike Caldwell cited that development in denying a state Department of Public Safety and Corrections request that he validate Louisiana’s lethal injection procedure for future executions.
Department of Public Safety and Corrections attorney Wade Shows, who argued in court Tuesday that there is no evidence sodium thiopental will “never ever become available,” said afterward the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal may be asked to look at the case.
Attorney Michael Rubenstein, who represents condemned killer Jimmy Ray Williams, of Baton Rouge, said after the hearing that sodium thiopental is the “pain-killer” used in the state’s three-drug combination.
Sodium thiopental renders the condemned inmate unconscious.
Hospira is the only sodium thiopental maker approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
There are other, similar sedatives on the market, but substituting one drug for another would require new laws or lengthy administrative processes in some states, including Louisiana.
Switching to another manufacturer could invite lawsuits from inmates demanding proof the drug will not cause pain in violation of their constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
Caldwell’s ruling came in a lawsuit that condemned killer Nathaniel Code, of Shreveport, filed against the Department of Public Safety and Corrections in late 2009.
The lawsuit claimed the state failed to follow proper administrative procedures before putting its lethal injection procedure in place.
In early 2010, the department essentially countersued every Louisiana death-row inmate, asking Caldwell to declare the state’s lethal injection rules and regulations meet statutory and constitutional muster.
There are 84 inmates on death row in Louisiana. None has a scheduled execution date.
Department of Public Safety and Corrections attorneys have said the agency is trying to avoid 84 separate lawsuits and rulings, which they contend would be a waste of judicial resources.
Attorneys for many of the state’s death-row inmates counter the rules governing executions have changed numerous times over the past two decades and could change in the future.