Death Penalty

Louisiana Tries to Bring Back Electric Chair and Make Lethal Injection Drugs Secret, Luckily Fails at Both


"Gruesome Gertie"
Angola Prison Museum, Angola, Louisiana

A bill that would have brought one of the toughest lethal injection secrecy regimes in the country to Louisiana was pulled by its sponsor just hours before the 2014 legislative session came to an end yesterday. 

The bill, HB 328, has a peculiar genealogy. It started out as a backdoor reauthorization of the electric chair in the Bayou State. After a few weeks, the legislature decided Gruesome Gertie wasn't worth resurrecting and abruptly changed course.

In April, the legislature rewrote HB 328 to give cover to Louisiana's Department of Corrections for the sloppy, illicit practices officials had attempted to get away with over the past few months—such as illegally purchasing lethal drugs out of state (from the dubiously named compounding pharmacy, The Apothecary Shoppe, in Oklahoma last year), changing its drug cocktail protocol without giving sufficient notice (as in the case of child-killer Christopher Sepulvado, whose execution has been stayed twice over this issue), and keeping information about the execution drugs a secret (even from inmates set to be strapped to the table). The bill also would have prohibited any public inquiry into botched executions.

The real reasons for scrapping the legislation—after both houses of the Louisiana legislature approved it—are still unclear. Republican state Rep. Joe Lopinto told reporters yesterday, "We passed a resolution today to study this issue. There's no reason for us to rush through and pass piecemeal legislation that will only be a short-term fix for something that needs a long-term solution."

A growing number of other states have adopted secrecy measures regarding the procurement of execution drugs, such as Oklahoma and Missouri, in response to a shortage of the drugs made by the only FDA approved manufacturers, who stopped making the drugs available for executions.

Among the states to adopt secrecy measures is Georgia, which passed a law that makes the identity of the pharmacy that supplies the state with its execution drugs a "state secret." That law has faced a number of legal challenges from lawyers, but the state supreme court upheld the law last month on the grounds that it made executions "more timely and orderly." Legal challenges to secrecy measures are currently pending in numerous other states.

The Guardian, Associated Press, and three local newspapers have filed suit over Missouri's lethal injection secrecy measures, asserting that the public has the right to know "the type, quality and source of drugs used by a state to execute an individual in the name of the people," under the first Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The fact that Louisiana's lethal injection secrecy bill was scrapped yesterday signals that at least some state legislators, like Lopinto, are willing to reconsider the costs and potential unintended consequences of allowing states to conduct its most grisly business behind closed doors. Let's hope that others follow suit.  

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  1. Kill ’em all.

    1. Ride The Lightning.

      1. Flash before my eyes
        Now it’s time to die
        Burning in my brain
        I can feel the flames

  2. “We passed a resolution to study today to study this issue.”

    That seems about right.

  3. Any time a government official says “we need to keep this a secret from the public” they should probably atop and wonder if what they are doing is right in the first place.

    1. Any time a government official says “we need to keep this a secret from the public” they should probably stop.

  4. What is the argument for keeping it secret anyway (aside from FYTW, of course)?

    1. “Don’t try this at home”?

    2. “For teh childrunZ”

    3. aside from FYTW

      Uhh… It depends on the state/compounding company, but the gist of the situation is that if no one knows what the drug(s) are used for, no one can have a moral reaction to it’s (illegal) sale/purchase/use.

      The government shows up at your place of work and asks to borrow some Draino. You aren’t entitled to ask “What for?” So, no other reason than FYTW.

      1. If that’s really the argument, it’s red-face lame, even for the government.

    4. There was a single manufacturer of the drug, somewhere in Europe. The only place you can get the shit. This manufacturer decided it was against the death penalty and would no longer sell it to anyone in the US.

      Apparently they got a new drug (Huey) and didn’t want a repeat, so they don’t want to go public with who makes it, what they are using it for or even what drug they are using.

      1. And what is to stop someone else from copying the formula and manufacturing the drug in the U.S.?

        1. the FDA

    5. State DOCs usually say pharmacies don’t want the public to know that they’re supplying states with lethal injection drugs, and the only way they’ll sell to them is if their identity is kept secret. It’s pretty weak.

  5. Anything wrong with a firing squad? Presumably you could automate it! Calibrate your sentry.

    1. I’d like to be given a pistol and a little privacy. That way, I won’t have to worry about some doofus screwing it up. And if I screw it up, they can just finish me off.

  6. Of course, it doesn’t cross their mind to not have a death penalty.

    1. What’s your solution? Let violent repeat offender sociopaths go free? Place the burden of their life imprisonment on the innocent and unrelated? Throw fairy dust at them until they turn into unicorns?

      1. Have you ever seen the film ‘Running Man?’

        1. That’s all well and good. But do we want killers like Whitman, Price and Haddad to go free and live in paradise?

        2. People who cite films as a serious point of evidence in a debate should be the only ones subject to the death penalty.

      2. Hmm, I like your fairy dust and unicorn option.

        But seriously, I’m not sure what the solution is. There’s a very large part of me that balks at the state having that power, especially with their track record of innocent people winding up in jail.

        But the other part of me understands on a pragmatic level that you can’t exactly let them go free either.

        A completely unrealistic solution would be for them to be made slaves of the victims family.

        1. I think that if you are going to have it there should at least be some evidentiary requirements to even seek the death penelty. Dna, fingerprints, video, multiple unrelated witnesses, etc. I don’t know what the exact requirements should be but certainly if all they have is some informants sole word who is getting something from the government to testify then it should never even reach the jury as a death penalty case.

          1. I do think some people deserve to die or even worse. My problem is giving the governmenf that power. But if their going to have it there needs to be much better assurances and proof that the person committed the crime before goi g down that road at all. Don’t have damning evidence, you can still go for life, but death penelty would be off the table.

  7. Nice and clean, guillotine!

    1. Well, it is sure, fast, and probably the least painful (barring evaporation on microseconds scale by a nuclear device) — but clean I wouldn’t call.

      1. As a farm boy I beheaded chickens for dinner. If a beheaded human body reacts anything like a chicken’s, the guillotine is most definitely not “clean”.

    2. It has the advantage of not sanitizing what it is you’re actually doing. I know there is a word much better than sanitizing for this but can’t extract it from my brain. I know it’s in there.

  8. Governors should have to do the killing themselves. That would cut down on executions for sure.

    1. Ned Stark agrees.

      1. Indeed. Watched the last episode. It was harder then I thought. Freaking Oberyn. You beat him. You won. You did that by not getting within arm’s reach of a man called the Mountain. Why the fuck would you be that stupid.

        1. We don’t talk about Oberyn here.

          1. They made him too much of a good guy in the show, IMO. He’s not just called the Viper because he’s fast.

    2. I don’t know. I think you would probably have a lot more people running for governer.

  9. I think it is in Texas where drug companies that make abortion drugs have to disclose themselves and all kinds of information but companies that make the drugs used in lethal injections are protected from that. Because culture of life or something.

    1. Dude, there is literally no contradiction there whatsoever. I don’t agree with the death penalty in practice, and my feelings on abortion are mixed, but it’s a perennial idiocy to claim that it’s somehow hypocritical to be opposed to abortion and pro-death penalty.

      1. Actually, it does undercut the ‘culture of life’ movement. But the contradiction here involves the disclosure requirements and protections.

        1. Again, there is absolutely no contradiction. The people who wrote those laws believe the guilty should be punished and the innocent protected. They are willing to embrace any action in pursuit of those goals.

          You have a real issue with putting yourself in the shoes of other people, and seeing things from their point of view.

          1. Are you sure I’m the one having trouble with that? Did you even take the time to look up the ‘culture of life?’ And did you not read my comment about the differing disclosure requirements?

            1. Woosh, the point flies over your head.

              1. Really, Virginian, what did you expect? If Bo ever fairly represented his opponents arguments, he wouldn’t have anything to post. What “fun” would that be?

    2. Texans are more squeamish about snuffing the inconvenient ones who didn’t have a trial and a decade or so of appeals.

      At least I think that explains the difference in approach to the two types of pharmaceuticals.

      1. I fail to see how this creates a relevant difference in the disclosure of the companies that make the drugs.

        1. Well, I tried.

          1. If you are saying that Texas pols like the death penalty and want to protect those making the drugs for it from any social pressure but they do not like abortion and want to expose those making those drugs to social pressure and that’s why there are the two different standards, OK. Of course, that’s not a rational reason at all, which was what I was looking for.

  10. My limited understanding of this issue with the execution drugs is this: The European company who manufactures the stuff decided to no longer sell it to states in the U.S. that use it for executions, at least partially because of pressure from their Government and Anti-capital Punishment groups. The same apparently holds true for Pharma in the U.S. as a reaction to the continued threats of legal action and pressure from Anti-capital Punishment orgs. That said, I have to side with the State Govs on this one, the purpose of the “secrecy” is to prevent the Pharmacy (or Pharmacies) from being bankrupted by frivolous lawsuits and/or having their business continually disrupted.

  11. I should hope they keep the identity of their lethal agents secret- How would you feel reading a screen illuminated by the very electrons used to fry [ insert name of naughty person here] ?

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