(WBIR-Knoxville) Rulings in Texas and Oklahoma courtrooms this week regarding drugs used in executions could impact Tennessee death row inmates.
Last year, Tennessee lawmakers passed a bill that exempts certain information about lethal injection drugs from the state's Open Records Act. Now, the identities of pharmaceutical companies that make the drugs are protected, along with details of what ingredients are in those drugs.
"Of all the things I can think of to not be done in secret, it's anything to do with the execution of a human being," said Tom Dillard, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor.
Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri have similar current laws, but judges in two states ruled against those laws and in favor of death row inmates this week.
An Oklahoma judge ruled Wednesday the state could not keep the identities of the drug suppliers secret. On Thursday, a judge in Texas handed down a similar ruling. According to the Associated Press, a state judge ordered the Texas prison agency to disclose the supplier of a new batch of execution drugs to two attorneys.
"Certainly Tennessee judges are not bound by what happens in other states. But I think it would have an influence on them. I mean we quite frequently in cases site similar cases from other states, and we cite federal jurisdictions," said Dillard.
Many states, including Tennessee, have struggled to obtain lethal injection drugs because pharmaceutical companies whose identities were made public allegedly received threats.
Critics of the law argue that without knowing who is making the drugs, and how they're making the injections, there is no proof they will work as intended, and could put the death row inmate through cruel and unusual punishment.
"So many of the companies that manufacture these drugs are from other countries that don't have the death penalty and therefore they do not want to encourage or participate in our execution of people," said Dillard. "So if we do have pharmacy compounding companies doing this, it's even more incumbent that we have a transparent process. Secrecy is just not appropriate in this situation."
According to The Associated Press, in January an Oklahoma a death row inmate's final words, about 20 seconds into his execution, were "I feel my whole body burning." A week later in Ohio, it took 24 minutes for an execution where the man allegedly was gasping for air and making choking sounds for 10 minutes.
"Death row inmates are not a sympathetic group, there's no question about that. But we as citizens don't have to and shouldn't descend to the level of cruel and unusual punishment and say it's ok to torture another human being," said Dillard. "If we don't know how the drugs are obtained, how they're mixed, we don't know they won't do that."