- Associated Press - Monday, December 22, 2014

HOUSTON (AP) - Texas has enough of the execution drug pentobarbital to carry out the first five lethal injections scheduled for 2015.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice records obtained Monday by The Associated Press under an open records request show that there were 12 doses of the powerful sedative in the prison system’s inventory as of the end of October, after the state carried out its 10th and final execution this year.

Two doses are required for each execution, plus another two in reserve.

At least 13 inmates have execution dates in 2015, including four in January and two in February.

Assuming none of the first five is halted or rescheduled, a new supply will have to be obtained or an alternate drug used to accommodate the Feb. 10 execution of Lester Bower Jr. for the killing of four men at a North Texas airplane hangar 30 years ago.

“TDCJ continues to explore all options including the continued use of pentobarbital or an alternate drug(s) in the lethal injection process,” agency spokesman Jason Clark said in a statement.

Records show that the state paid more than $12,000 on July 25 for its most recent supply of the drug, which has become increasingly difficult to obtain. The purchase, signed for by James Jones, warden at the Huntsville Unit, where executions are carried out, shows that nearly $800 more was paid to cover testing for sterility, potency, toxicity and credit card fees.

As in the recent past, the records were redacted to conceal the name of the company that supplied the drugs.

Texas and other death penalty states have turned to compounding pharmacies for made-to-order execution drugs because pharmaceutical companies stopped selling U.S. prisons the drugs they used to use in lethal injections.

The Texas cost - $1,500 for each 50-milliliter bottle containing 2.5 grams of pentobarbital - is the same as a purchase earlier this year by the prison system and comparable to prices on the consumer market, although about four times more expensive than in previous years.

A state judge in Austin, ruling this month in a lawsuit, ordered Texas to release the name of the compounding pharmacy providing the execution drug. That ruling is on hold pending an appeal by the state.

Texas officials have insisted the drug supplier’s identity should remain secret, citing a “threat assessment” signed by Texas Department of Public Safety director Steven McCraw that says pharmacies selling execution drugs face “a substantial threat of physical harm.”

Law enforcement officials, however, have declined to elaborate on the nature of those threats.

Courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have refused to halt executions because of the drug secrecy issue.

Unlike other states like Ohio, Arizona and Oklahoma, which were using multiple drugs when executions went awry, Texas uses only pentobarbital and has avoided problems in the death chamber. The 10 Texas inmates put to death this year, the lowest total in 18 years, all reacted similarly to the drug, taking a few breaths or snoring while appearing to go to sleep, then slipping into unconsciousness.

Maurie Levin, one of the lawyers involved in the lawsuit seeking disclosure of the drug source, said Monday that she found “particularly frightening” and was more concerned with a disclosure earlier this year that Texas had purchased drugs like those used in the botched executions elsewhere.

“Choosing to go that route now is a pretty deeply troubling possibility - and truly makes one wonder about TDCJ’s intent,” she said.

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