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Lawsuit: Controversy should delay Texas execution

May 6, 2014

HOUSTON (AP) — Prison officials must reveal the source of their lethal injection drugs to avoid an incident “as horrific” as last week’s bungled execution in Oklahoma, attorneys for a Texas death row inmate argued Tuesday in an attempt to delay his upcoming execution.

Lawyers for Robert Campbell filed a federal civil rights lawsuit citing the Oklahoma execution that went awry when an intravenous line of lethal drugs became dislodged, a failure that went unnoticed for 21 minutes. The inmate, Clayton Lockett, later died of an apparent heart attack.

Campbell’s lawyers say it doesn’t matter that Texas uses a single drug, pentobarbital, while Oklahoma used a three-drug combination because all of the potent drugs have potentially serious side effects. They also use arguments that have been rejected in recent months by federal courts in Texas and other states: that the problem is the secrecy surrounding the drug, and that the drug supplier’s name is necessary to obtain and test the efficiency of the drugs.

“The possible cause of Mr. Lockett’s botched execution are all issues that have been, are, or could be problematic in Texas,” according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Houston. “There is a substantial risk that Mr. Campbell’s execution could be as horrific as Mr. Lockett’s.”

The state Department of Criminal Justice, which is among the named defendants in the lawsuit, “does not comment on pending litigation,” agency spokesman Jason Clark said Tuesday. Like several other states, Texas has refused to identify the source of its pentobarbital by citing possible threats of violence to the supplier if it’s disclosed.

The risk to inmates like Campbell, who was convicted of abducting, raping and killing a woman in 1991, “derives primarily from the secrecy of the entire process — not the individual drug that might be used in one execution vs. the next,” according to the lawsuit.

Questions about execution procedures have drawn renewed attention from defense attorneys and death penalty opponents in recent months as states have been forced to scramble to find new sources of execution drugs. Several drugmakers, including many based in Europe, have refused to sell drugs for use in executions.

The issue surfaced in Texas — the nation’s most active death penalty state — when it replenished its execution drug stock in late March. But the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals that focused on secrecy surrounding the drug supplier’s name, and three Texas inmates have been executed since then.

“To move forward without hesitation despite full awareness of the grave risks and possibly torturous results ... should not be countenanced by a civilized society, nor tolerated by the constitutional principles that form the basis of our democracy,” Campbell’s attorneys said.

Lawyers also have other appeals in the courts arguing Campbell’s execution should be halted because he is mentally impaired and that legal help he received at his trial and in earlier stages of appeals was deficient.

Campbell, 41, is set to die next Tuesday for the 1991 slaying of a Houston woman, Alexandra Rendon, who was abducted while putting gas into her car, robbed, raped and shot. Campbell was 18 at the time and on parole after serving four months of a five-year sentence for robbery.

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