A Very Big Beast in Mississippi

Mississippi’s Attorney General, Jim Hood, who was so vociferously in favour of Willie Jerome Manning’s execution two years ago, is embroiled in a battle to suppress the identity of people involved in executions and of those providing drugs for lethal injections. The battle was precipitated by a request from the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center for information about Mississippi’s procedure for carrying out executions; Hood’s office responded, but with information redacted, leading the Justice Center to file a complaint with the Hinds County Chancery Court.

So far things have not gone Hood’s way. On March 6 2015 Judge Denise Owens gave Hood’s office a stern rebuke, stating that secrecy is unwarranted:

“MDOC [The Mississippi Department of Correction] and entities like it respond to these requests declaring the information to be confidential and privileged, when in reality the information is simply put, controversial…

Four words come to mind regarding the MDOC’s reasons to protect this so-called sensitive information: nature of the beast. …that is the nature of the very big beast that we face as citizens of Mississippi where the death penalty is legal… All that is present in this case is fear. There is stone cold fear that if names are released threats will be made and ultimatums will be given and people and entities will suffer harm. But that’s all that’s present here. Fear.”

Hood’s office plans to appeal the judge’s decision.

At the heart of the controversy is the State’s eagerness to continue procuring the drug, pentobarbital, for use in executions. A previous source, Brister Brothers compounding pharmacy, stopped supplying the drug for lethal injections once its name was made public.

The c0-director of the MacArthur Center, Jim Craig, asserts that transparency regarding drugs is particularly needed now:

“More than ever, after the visible torture of several condemned prisoners in other states last year in botched executions, the origin, integrity, and composition of lethal injection drugs is a matter of serious public concern.”

Hood earlier encouraged state lawmakers to introduce House Bill 1305, to exempt from disclosure lethal injection drug suppliers, and the identities of people assisting in executions and witnesses to executions. The bill is reported to have ‘died in committee’ on March 3 2015.

Hood is being pushed into an increasingly tight corner. Last month, on March 24 2015, the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists advised its members to avoid supplying drugs for lethal injections;  this was followed a week later by similar advice from the American Pharmacists’ Association . The advice aligns pharmacies with other health care associations, who have long advised against participation in executions.

It is starting to look as if Hood will have to give up his wish to continue using ‘hastily thrown together human experiments’ using unregulated supplies of drugs to kill those on Mississippi’s death row. And hurray for that!

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