- The Washington Times - Friday, September 25, 2015

If Virginia goes forward this week with its first execution since 2013, it will be with the help of the state that leads the nation in putting convicts to death.

Texas prison officials have provided the Virginia Department of Corrections with a hard-to-come-by lethal injection drug in the midst of a nationwide shortage.

A corrections spokeswoman confirmed that the department received doses of the drug pentobarbital from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for use in Thursday’s scheduled execution of Alfredo Prieto, who was convicted of three murders and identified as the prime suspect in six others.

Without the transfer of drugs to Virginia, the commonwealth would not have had the lethal injection drugs required to carry out the execution.

Doses of the lethal injection drug midazolam that Virginia has kept on hand in the past will expire Wednesday, according to Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lisa Kinney.



Texas officials said the drugs were provided to Virginia as a favor for a trade in 2013, when Virginia gave Texas a backup dose of pentobarbital ahead of an execution there.

“The agency earlier this year was approached by officials in Virginia, and we reciprocated and gave them three vials of pentobarbital that were legally purchased from a pharmacy,” said Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Robert Hurst.

Ms. Kinney said the commonwealth did not provide any payment to Texas for the drugs.

The disclosure initially was revealed in court filings made by an Oklahoma death row inmate, Richard Glossip, who is scheduled to be executed Wednesday. In court documents, Glossip alleged that Texas was making its own pentobarbital and argued that is at odds with what Oklahoma has said about its inability to obtain the drug.

Oklahoma uses midazolam, which has been used in several botched executions. The Supreme Court has since then upheld use of the drug.

Nineteen states have abolished the death penalty, but those that still carry out capital punishment have struggled in recent years to obtain lethal injection drugs, as pharmaceutical companies have been pressured to stop providing them for executions.

Jen Moreno, a staff attorney with Berkeley Law School’s Death Penalty Clinic, said states are known to have provided drugs to other states for executions “a handful” of times.

“It’s possible that this is happening on a more widespread level than we know because so many states have applied secrecy,” she said.

The fact that Virginia has received pentobarbital from Texas, where state laws prevent disclosure of information about the supplier of lethal injection drugs, is troublesome to those who oppose the death penalty. Virginia lawmakers this year rejected a bill that would have shielded the identities of manufacturers of lethal injection drugs as well as the compounds used.

“So what the [Department of Corrections] is doing by going to Texas is a backdoor way of implementing a policy that the legislature rejected earlier this year, which is very troubling,” said Michael Stone, executive director of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Although Glossip, the Oklahoma inmate, alleged that Texas was manufacturing pentobarbital in-house, Ms. Moreno said it’s tough to know where the drugs are coming from.

“Since 2013, we haven’t gotten any information about where Texas is getting their drugs,” Ms. Moreno said. “For the execution in Virginia to go as it needs to go — for it to be humane — it’s important to know what the drug is and that it’s going to work effectively.”

“It’s definitely concerning that the only information that is available is just a photocopy of an image of three sketchy-looking vials,” she said, referencing an image included in Glossip’s court filing of the pentobarbital doses sent to Virginia.

If Prieto’s execution goes forward Thursday, it would be Virginia’s first use of capitol punishment since the 2013 electrocution of Robert Gleason. It also would be the first execution to take place since Gov. Terry McAuliffe has been in office.

Mr. McAuliffe, a Democrat, has remained noncommittal in the past when asked whether he would consider a commutation of a death sentence.

Virginia has executed 110 convicts since 1976 — the year the Supreme Court reaffirmed the legality of the death penalty after having placed an effective moratorium on capital punishment in 1972.

But use of the death penalty in Virginia has slowed in recent years, with the commonwealth being surpassed last year by Oklahoma in the number of total executions. Virginia now ranks third in the country for executions, behind Texas and Oklahoma.

Prieto is one of eight men on Virginia’s death row, but Mr. Stone notes that several others are nearing the end of their federal appeals fights against their death sentences. If Virginia continues to successfully acquire lethal injection drugs, he suspects the commonwealth could see several more executions within a short window of time.

“I’m hoping for the best but preparing for the worst,” he said.

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