Criminal Justice

Louisiana’s death-penalty protocol uses same drugs as lengthy Arizona execution

Louisiana’s latest death-penalty execution protocol requires the same two-drug cocktail used during an Arizona execution that took nearly two hours on Wednesday, according to state records.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has ordered a review of Arizona’s lethal-injection procedure after the execution of Joseph R. Wood III, who reportedly was seen gasping and snorting before succumbing to a mix of midazolam and hydromorphone. Those two drugs comprise the same lethal cocktail that Louisiana officials said as recently as May would be used for the execution of death-row inmate Christopher Sepulvado.

This is the third time that the drug midazolam has been involved in a lengthy execution in the past year. The drug, which is a sedative but is also being used in executions as an anesthetic, can include side effects of breathing problems and cardiac arrest.

Mercedes Montagnes, an attorney for Sepulvado, said recent lethal injections involving midazolam caused “disastrous results.”

“Experimental executions are leading to disastrous results around the country, as we have seen in Ohio, Oklahoma and now Arizona,” Montagnes said. “These recent botched executions — two of which involved the same untested drug combination of midazolam and hydromorphone as that proposed by the Louisiana Department of Corrections — illuminate the necessity of subjecting lethal injection procedures to public scrutiny and ensuring execution teams are properly trained to carry them out.”

According to the latest execution protocol made public by the Louisiana Department of Corrections, Louisiana calls for far less midazolam than used in those unusually drawn-out  executions.

Prolonged executions in three states

In Arizona, Wood reportedly remained conscious for more than an hour and a half after being injected with the two-drug combination of lethal injection drugs Wednesday night. Reports indicate he was pronounced dead nearly two hours later.

If Arizona officials followed the state’s lethal injection protocol, Wood was injected with 50 milligrams of midazolam and 40 milligrams of hydromorphone.

That same two-drug combination was used by Ohio officials in the January execution of Dennis McGuire, who also reportedly gasped and snorted before succumbing to the drugs after nearly half an hour. Ohio’s protocol at the time called for 10 milligrams of midazolam and 40 milligrams of hydromorphone. Ohio has since increased the protocol to 50 milligrams each of the drugs.

Midazolam was also used during the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma. During his April execution, Lockett was administered three drugs — midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride. At the time, Oklahoma’s protocol called for 100 milligrams of midazolam — 10 times the amount that Louisiana officials would use.

Louisiana’s protocol being reviewed

Louisiana’s latest protocol calls for 10 milligrams of midazolam and 40 milligrams of hydromorphone. Nine days after Lockett’s botched execution, however, prison officials announced that they would review that protocol before the next execution.

In May, officials also agreed to give inmate Sepulvado a six-month stay while they reviewed the dosage amounts, or perhaps found another method of execution altogether. Department of Corrections officials haven’t said yet what that alternative method would be, or which dosage levels of the current protocol would be most effective.

James Hilburn, an attorney for the state corrections department, said Thursday that any comments regarding the state’s current two-drug protocol, given the latest execution in Arizona, would be “premature.”

“We are committed to making sure justice is served in accordance with the law,” he said. “As directed by the Louisiana legislature, we are considering alternative methods of execution, including the most effective drugs and dosage levels for the lethal injection drug protocol.”

Sepulvado was convicted in 1993 of murdering his 6-year-old stepson by beating him in the head with a screwdriver and immersing his body in scalding water.

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