Death-row inmate Christopher Sepulvado was granted a 90-day stay of execution today, just two days before he was set to be killed with a new, controversial combination of lethal-injection drugs.
The state and Sepulvado’s attorney’s agreed to a 90-day temporary restraining order after a closed-door meeting with U.S. District Court Judge James Brady, said Pam Laborde, spokeswoman for the state Department of Safety and Corrections. The meeting was held in Brady’s chambers to discuss recent changes in Louisiana’s lethal injection protocol.
A trial on the constitutionality of the state’s execution method is scheduled to begin April 7.
“The stay will allow additional time for review and responses to outstanding issues related to the execution,” Laborde said in her written statement.
Last week the state announced it would be using a mix of the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone. The deadly concoction was used earlier this month in Ohio, where it reportedly caused convicted rapist and killer Dennis McGuire to gasp and snort for fifteen minutes before dying.
Sepulvado was sentenced to death in 1993 for killing his stepson. He beat the 6-year-old child with a screwdriver and held him in scalding water.
This is the latest in a string of delays won by Sepulvado. He and fellow death-row inmate Jessie Hoffman have a joint federal lawsuit pending that says they deserve to know precisely how the state will execute them. Their lawyers are trying to show that the state’s methods could cause unnecessary pain and suffering, violating their constitutional rights.
Sepulvado’s lawyers have repeatedly complained that the state has withheld information about its lethal-injection process, including the source of the drugs and whether they’re expired.
On Friday, following pleadings by Sepulvado’s lawyers, Brady ordered the state to “identify, by type, manufacturer, lot number, quantity, expiration date, and source, the drug or drugs to be used by the DOC in the lethal injections given to death row inmates.”
In response, the Department of Corrections released a document stating that Louisiana had hydromorphone and midazolam “in compliance with the recently revised protocol.”
However, the state’s execution protocol calls for a concentrated mixture of of midazolam, a sedative, five times stronger than what the state’s records show it has in stock, according to a state document recently filed in court.
Ohio’s protocol, which death-penalty opponents say resulted in a botched execution, also called for the stronger dose of midazolam.
The state provided to Sepulvado’s attorneys only some of the information ordered by the judge. It did not identify what company or pharmacist supplied the drug. In a court filing last week, a lawyer for the state argued that it’s imperative to protect the identities of companies that provide drugs to the DOC.
“In truth, other than exposing those people to the potential abuses and harassment of anti-death penalty advocates, there is no good reason for exposing the identities of these people,” wrote state attorney Jeffrey Cody.
Sepulvado’s case underscores “troubling new developments” concerning Louisiana’s planned method of execution, according to Sophie Cull, the former director of the Louisiana Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
“Recent issues in Oklahoma, Ohio and Missouri have highlighted the national crisis surrounding lethal injection, marked by botched executions, extreme secrecy and the replacement of FDA-approved drugs with drugs of unknown sourcing and testing in new experimental combinations,” she said.
The stay of execution follows a court filing last week by Gary Clements, a lawyer for Sepulvado. Clements said that Louisiana’s “eleventh-hour” switch of execution drugs was both secretive and appeared to violate its own regulations.
“Consistent with its belief that it need not provide any information about the execution, the state has ‘disclosed’ its protocol in name only: petitioner has no way of knowing what drugs will actually be used in the execution,” Clements wrote.
This is the third time in several years that the state has changed its lethal-injection method, as states all over the country have faced nationwide shortages of execution drugs.
In February 2013, the state announced a change from a three-drug mixture of lethal injection drugs to the single drug, pentobarbital. But that drug only has a shelf life of three years, and the state disposed of its supply after it expired in September.
The state couldn’t find another source of pentobarbital, Laborde said.
Documents obtained by The Lens in response to a public-records request for documents regarding acquisition of pentobarbital show that in September the state received a confidentiality agreement from an Oklahoma compounding pharmacy called The Apothecary Shoppe, which is not licensed in the state of Louisiana. Several states around the country have been turning to compounding pharmacies, which aren’t regulated by the FDA, to obtain lethal injection drugs.