A federal judge in Houston on Wednesday blocked two Texas executions, deciding that the state prison system’s refusal to disclose detailed information about drugs that will be used to kill them violates the inmates' constitutional rights.
U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore issued a preliminary injunction that effectively blocked the Thursday execution of Tommy Lynn Sells and the execution of Ramiro Hernadez Llanas, which was scheduled for April 9.
The attorney general’s office notified the inmates' attorneys and the court that the state's attorneys will appeal Gilmore’s decision.
“Until Plaintiffs have full disclosure of the product with which Texas will cause their death, they cannot fully develop a challenge to its process,” Gilmore said in her ruling. “The question is not whether some error may cause a significant chance of pain in the execution procedure … but whether even a properly conducted execution will result in intolerable pain because of the substance used.”
Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials have said that they would not disclose information about the suppliers, manufacturers or other details about the drug. They have argued that the identity of execution drug suppliers should be protected based on threats the companies have received in the past.
TDCJ has struggled to maintain a supply of lethal injection drugs, which originate in European countries that oppose the death penalty. Last year, the agency lost its most recent supplier of the drug, a compounding pharmacy, after the company's name was made public and it received threats. Many states have turned to compounding pharmacies, where drugs are made to fit the needs of individual patients.
Gilmore ordered the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to disclose – under seal – all information on the process used to procure the execution drug, including the names of the suppliers and any testing that has been done.
Attorneys Maurie Levin and Jonathan Ross, who represent the inmates, praised the judge’s action.
“The District Court's order honors and reflects the crucial importance of transparency in the execution process,” they said in a statement. “We hope that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice will finally decide to comply with the law, and cease attempting to shroud in secrecy one aspect of their job that, above all others, should be conducted in the light of day.”