- Associated Press - Monday, May 19, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A state lawmaker is pushing for Louisiana to consider alternatives to lethal injection in response to a nationwide shortage of the drugs used to execute prisoners.

Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie, is seeking passage of a resolution that would direct the Department of Corrections to recommend alternate execution methods if drugs cannot be found. The House criminal justice committee will debate the idea Wednesday.

Lopinto said some states have talked of using “inert gas,” and Louisiana should look at that and what other possibilities exist for carrying out the death penalty.

“It’s important for us to look at all those things and see which way we go,” Lopinto said in a recent hearing. “There’s a bunch of options out there.”

Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc refused an interview request and gave a statement Monday that did not offer suggestions for alternatives, simply saying the department is “committed to making sure justice is served in accordance with the law.”

Some states have authorized alternatives, but only if lethal injection is ruled unconstitutional or a prisoner chooses it, according to Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based nonprofit that tracks capital punishment laws.

At least four other states are considering adding other execution options. Dieter said Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia and Wyoming have measures that would reinstate old methods of execution, such as electrocution. None of the measures have become law so far.

Dieter said reinstating older execution methods would likely be challenged in court.

Louisiana, like other states, has had trouble finding lethal injection drugs because companies don’t want to be known as helping facilitate an execution.

The state’s last execution in 2010 used three chemicals, but sodium thiopental, a key anesthetic in the process, became impossible for the corrections department to obtain. Prison officials then planned to use pentobarbital, a powerful sedative, as the single lethal injection drug, but the corrections department had trouble buying it.

In January, the state announced a new execution protocol that would use a two-drug combination, following the method carried out for the first time in Ohio. It includes the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone.

States have started shielding information about how they obtain the drugs in response to similar shortages.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Georgia, Arkansas, South Dakota and Tennessee have passed bills that would make drugmakers’ identity confidential.

Lopinto has a proposal to do the same in Louisiana. It is scheduled for consideration Tuesday on the House floor.

Critics say hiding the drug providers’ identities would make it impossible to ensure the drugs are safe, and therefore, that executions do not violate constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

Story Continues →