Texas Killed a Man This Week, But Won’t Say How

Written by Nicole Flatow

Tommy Lynn Sells was executed Thursday night using a lethal injection drug whose source was not disclosed. Sells’ lawyers have argued that without knowledge about the source of the drug, they cannot verify whether it will lead to a cruel and unusual execution that violates the Constitution.

On Wednesday, a federal district judge ruled that the execution could not go forward until the state revealed the source of the drug so that Sells’ lawyers could verify that it would not impose cruel and unusual treatment. But a federal appeals court quickly overturned that ruling, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene late Thursday.

The pentobarbitol involved in the execution was obtained from what is known as a compounding pharmacy, which makes small-batch drugs and is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Several states are turning to these compounding pharmacies because of a shortage of lethal injection drugs from European drug-makers, thanks to international opposition to the death penalty. Over the past few years, inmates who were executed using small-batch barbituates from compounding pharmacies reportedly experienced prolonged, gasping periods before they finally died.

These risks are particularly high where the source of the drugs and the way they were made remains secret. But states including Oklahoma and Missouri have refused to reveal the name of the pharmacy that made the drugs, claiming they may face threats or pressure to stop distributing the drug for executions because of moral opposition. And keeping their source secret is a new obstacle that several courts have now addressed.

In January, a federal appeals court permitted Missouri to execute a man without ever revealing the manufacturer of the drug that killed him. The inmate in the case never had the opportunity to ensure that the drug would not lead to an execution amounting to cruel and unusual punishment, by verifying the reputation of the pharmacy, questioning the testing performed by a state entity that has in the past approved faulty drugs, or assessing how the drug was manufactured. But an Oklahoma county judge came to the opposite conclusion last week, finding that the inmates had a constitutional right to know the source of the lethal injection drugs. “I do not think this is even a close call,” District Judge Patricia Parrish said.

Reports on Thursday’s execution do not suggest outward signs of a faulty lethal injection drug. But Texas is the number one U.S. executioner, so the ruling will affect a number of other executions, each of which could face a risk of contaminated drugs.

This post originally appeared on ThinkProgress

Photo Credit: ThinkProgress


Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 months ago

thanks for the article.

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson2 years ago

How many unknown victims did he kill and how? Victims should have rights too.

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson2 years ago

Did the criminal share the killing of his victim too? We need victim rights!

Dominic C.
Dominic C.2 years ago

Next election, VOTE OUT the Gov!

Ann Razumovskaya
Ann Razumovskaya2 years ago

I'm rather peaceful individual, and I think that victims rights are much more important than killer's rights. Want to live - don't kill others. So I don't care if source of lethal injection is rat poison or something like that.

Susan T.
Susan T.2 years ago

"cruel and unusual punishment" is being tortured and killed by a psychopath who then is given more rights and consideration than his victims.

Susan T.
Susan T.2 years ago

Where are the victims rights?
Tommy Lynn Sells was a serial KILLER! and by all accounts he was "put to sleep" peacefully which the dozens of people he murdered surely did not die peacefully.
What if that last little girl was your daughter?

Pat P.
Pat P.2 years ago

Our country is supposed to be civilized which, in my interpretation, means above torturing people. States that readily put people to death, such as Texas, should be required to have their drugs analyzed for efficacy--quick and painless. Unlike "more civilized" countries who do not believe in the death penalty, yet still exact severe punishments (life in prison is not a sympathy vote), it does not appear to be important that we are humane. Since the death penalty is arbitrary, dictated by the quality of legal representation, wealth of the offender and personality/competence of the judge, the least we can do is not prolong the agony of execution. Otherwise, are we not as bad or worse than the criminal?

Geoff P.
Geoff P.2 years ago

If he never did the crime the punishment would not have happened.Unfortunately we have no death penalty where I live.

Roberta G.
Roberta G.2 years ago