Criminal Justice

Executions on hold for at least a year as Louisiana sorts out death penalty method

Executions in Louisiana are on hold for at least a year because the state doesn’t have the drugs needed to put inmates to death, according to a court filing and a lawyer for a convicted child-killer.

Lawyers for Christopher Sepulvado and the state Department of Corrections were supposed to be in federal court Thursday to schedule a trial on the constitutionality of Louisiana’s method of execution.

Instead, a federal judge on Tuesday delayed the trial and Sepulvado’s execution — as well as four others on death row — until July 2016 as Louisiana tries to figure out how it can carry out the death penalty.

This is the second time in a year that the state has asked to delay the trial.

States around the country have struggled to execute prisoners because of shortages of lethal injection drugs. In a few cases, it’s taken an unusually long time for inmates to die from new drug combinations.

In the motion to delay the hearing, Department of Corrections attorney James Hilburn wrote that “it would be a waste of resources and time to litigate this matter at present” because the facts in the case are changing. He wrote that he expects those issues to be “more settled” by July 2016.

Hilburn declined to elaborate on the reasons for the delay.

Louisiana’s current death-penalty protocol calls for a mix of hydromorphone and midazolam, the same drugs used last summer during an Arizona execution that took nearly two hours to complete. Louisiana’s last known supplies of the drugs expired earlier this year.

Mercedes Montagnes, a lawyer for Sepulvado, said the state “came to us after they were unable to locate any legal source for lethal injection drugs and asked for another year to come up with a new method of execution or source of drugs.”

Sepulvado, who was convicted of beating his stepson with a screwdriver and then submerging his body in scalding water, has delayed his execution several times in the past two years.

In his lawsuit, he argues that the state’s execution method violates his constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

As part of that lawsuit, Sepulvado has sought to learn the exact procedure Louisiana will use to put him to death. The state has fought such disclosures in court and in response to public-records requests filed by The Lens.

Meanwhile, Louisiana corrections officials have gotten more creative in getting their hands on execution drugs and have considered new ways to carry out the death penalty.

In January 2014, as Sepulvado’s last execution date approached, the Louisiana Department of Corrections turned to Lake Charles Memorial Hospital for one of the two drugs it needed to execute him.

According to a hospital spokesman, the state lied to the Lake Charles pharmacist, saying the hydromorphone was for “a medical patient” rather than a prisoner on death row.

“At no time was Memorial told the drug would be used for an execution,” spokesman Matt Felder said at the time.

The state considered getting another drug from an out-of-state compounding pharmacy not licensed in Louisiana, which would have been illegal.

In 2014, the Legislature considered reinstating electrocution. It’s been outlawed since 1991.

At the request of Department of Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc, the bill was changed to drop electrocution and instead conceal details about executions, including the source of execution drugs. It was never passed.

Other states, including Arizona, Missouri and Oklahoma, have passed such secrecy laws.

In February, Louisiana corrections officials asked legislators to allow them to use nitrogen, which has never been tried in the U.S. No bill was introduced.

Death-penalty opponents have responded to drawn-out executions around the country by calling execution methods “experimental.”

Last year, a prisoner in Oklahoma tried to rise from the gurney after his injections began. In April, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the constitutionality of that state’s execution method.

That execution used midazolam, one of the two drugs called for by Louisiana. It prompted Louisiana officials to say they would reconsider the drug.

The state has not said what method it would use instead.

“Obviously whatever plan the state comes up with will have to be evaluated by the court for its constitutionality,” Montagnes said.

Other death-row inmates who won stays of execution with Tuesday’s ruling are:

Of the five, only Sepulvado has been given an execution date.

Lawyers are set to meet July 11, 2016, to set a new trial date in his lawsuit.

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  • nickelndime

    The State of Louisiana has Jindal for governor and Caldwell as AG. One year of executions on hold will not matter to anybody except the “starfishes” who are on Pontchartrain Beach and hoping that the “system” will (expletive deleted) up again. And it will.

    Do these incarcerated “killer” individuals have anything else to lose!? TIME perhaps – dated and time-stamped, but this is only unparallelled “FREEDOM” (…just another word for nothing left to lose…).

    Back to Louisiana.
    When has Louisiana done anything (of value) that is morally “right”? Food? Yes. Alcohol Consumption? Yes. Brown bags? Yes. Jazz? Yes. Insects? Yes….

    I said “morally,” for Christ’s sake. There is no moral high ground in this state.
    Put IT (the state) in charge of executions and drugs!!! You should know by now, this will not turn out good for anybody. If it is going to get ruined, however, that Louisiana can do AND YOU ARE HERE!

    06/25/2015 3:23 AM DST USA

  • nickelndime

    The US Supreme Court (the highest court in “the land” or the lowest court in “the land” depending on what direction you are coming from) believes that Oklahoma’s method of killing someone for killing is constitutional. But at least one of the “justices” thinks that killing someone legally may be unconstitutional. Humans! What you gonna do with them? It may be time to “roll the dice again.” 06/29/2015 9:51 PM DST USA

  • nickelndime

    Oh what a relief, “executions are on hold”!!!. ASP was wrapped around my head, and it looked like, “Excursions were on hold for a year.” Can imagine what “that” would do to tourism in the GNO area?!!! Then, we are “good to go.” 07/05/2015 9:23 PM DST USA