ATLANTA (AP) — A death row inmate’s federal lawsuit claims Georgia’s
stockpile of a key lethal injection drug has expired, and he’s asking a judge
to halt an execution he says may cause him to die in excruciating pain.
The lawsuit filed Friday on behalf of Roy Willard
Blankenship raises new questions about Georgia’s
supply of sodium thiopental, a sedative that has been in short supply even
before the drug’s sole U.S.
manufacturer decided last month to stop producing it.
“No matter where Georgia obtained its supply of the
drug, the drug is almost certainly expired and no longer effective,” said
the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court by the Atlanta-based
Southern Center for Human Rights.
The shortage has delayed executions in several states, and
an Associated Press review found that at least five states — Arizona,
Georgia and Tennessee — had to turn to England for their supply of the
meanwhile, secured a stockpile from an Indian firm.
corrections officials did not respond to a request for comment. But state
attorneys have said the drug expires in February 2014, and that the same batch
of drugs was used without problems for earlier executions in Georgia and Arizona.
Blankenship was set to be executed last Wednesday for the
1978 murder of an elderly woman, but the state pardons board postponed it
earlier this month to give authorities more time to conduct DNA testing on the
victim’s remains. The lawsuit urged the judge to call off the execution until
the state releases more details of the state’s supply of the drug.
Sodium thiopental is a barbiturate used by most states as
part of a three-drug cocktail. It puts inmates to sleep before officials
administer pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes the muscles, and potassium
chloride, which stops the heart. The lawsuit contends that the expired drug may
not fully put Blankenship to sleep — which could make his death extremely
painful as the other drugs take effect.
The lawsuit, citing state documents, claims the sodium
thiopental is stored in vials labeled “Link Pharmaceuticals,” a firm purchased
five years ago by Archimedes Pharma Limited, another British company.
Link Pharmaceuticals didn’t exist in 2010, and its name
hasn’t been on labels since May 2007, the lawsuit said. Sodium thiopental
typically has a shelf life of four years, meaning even the state’s newest
supply would expire in May of this year, according to the lawsuit.
Archimedes did not immediately respond to a request for
comment. But it has said the firm does not export the drug to the U.S. and that
it doesn’t keep information on the purchasers and users of its products.
Blankenship’s lawsuit also includes an affidavit from
Randall Tackett, a University
of Georgia pharmacy
professor, who said using an expired batch of the drug could have grave
“There is an extremely high risk that the use of
expired sodium thiopental would cause the individual being executed to experience
excruciating pain due to inadequate sedation,” he said.