- Associated Press - Saturday, February 22, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - State prison officials are asking to keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs the Louisiana State Penitentiary has stockpiled for its next execution, which could come later this year.

In court filings, the state says if it identifies how it’s getting the lethal injection drugs, corrections officials may not be able to continue obtaining them, because the companies that make and sell the drugs won’t want to be known as helping facilitate an execution.

Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc and Warden Burl Cain also want to hide the names of the health care workers who assist in an execution.

“Any identifying information is likely to subject the drug manufacturers, suppliers, testing labs and healthcare professionals to harassment, potential loss of business and other adverse consequences which could be injurious to their businesses,” James Hilburn, a lawyer for the state, wrote in a request for a protective order.

The request is part of an ongoing federal lawsuit seeking more details about Louisiana’s execution method, to determine whether it violates a condemned inmate’s constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment.

The attorney representing the prisoner scheduled for the next execution opposes the state’s attempt to keep the information hidden, saying corrections officials have no proof of their claims.

“This is just the latest in a series of attempts by the Defendants to shroud their execution plans in secrecy in order to avoid the scrutiny of Plaintiffs, this Court and ultimately the citizens of Louisiana to whom they are accountable,” wrote Gary Clements, lawyer for condemned killer Christopher Sepulvado.

Drugs used in executions have become more difficult to acquire, as companies have resisted selling them for such purposes.

Louisiana’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 a lethal injection in Ohio that includes the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone.

The change came only days before Louisiana planned to execute Sepulvado for the beating and scalding death of his 6-year-old stepson two decades ago.

Clements raised immediate objections, saying the abrupt change of plans raised new concerns and questions, and the state agreed to a 90-day postponement of Sepulvado’s lethal injection.

U.S. District Judge James Brady will hold a trial about the constitutionality of the new execution protocol on April 7.

Meanwhile, the state has filed purchase orders with the federal court showing it has the two chemicals and they are unexpired, but corrections officials have blacked out identifying information about the manufacturer and seller.

Clements, director of the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana, says the two-drug combination increases the risk of painful and prolonged death and could subject Sepulvado to cruel and unusual punishment.

Sepulvado’s attorneys cite witness statements describing the man executed in Ohio as gasping, struggling and convulsing for up to 15 minutes after the drugs began flowing.

Ohio’s most recent batches of lethal injection drugs were produced by a company that wants states to stop using them for capital punishment.

Clements has asked for details about where the state is buying it execution drugs and when they were purchased. He has raised questions about whether the drugs were expired and whether they were obtained from unregulated sources or through pharmacies that aren’t allowed to sell the substances in Louisiana.

State corrections officials say in court documents that the drugs come from an FDA-approved source and haven’t expired. They say if the judge won’t agree to shield all identifying information, they’d ask that it only be disclosed to Sepulvado’s lawyers - and filed under seal to keep the details concealed from the public.

Seth Smith Jr. is the deputy warden at Elayne Hunt Correctional Center and the person tasked with locating supplies of lethal injection drugs for the state, for use at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. He filed an affidavit with the court saying the drugs “have been difficult to obtain without a promise of confidentiality and/or a nondisclosure agreement.”

“The disclosure of the identities of the manufacturers and suppliers would effectively prevent DOC from obtaining the lethal injection chemicals needed in order to meet its obligations under state law,” Smith said in the document.

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