Arizona: Execution Drugs Came From Great Britain

October 26, 2010

Arizona’s Attorney General Terry Goddard has reportedly confirmed that his state’s stash of non-FDA approved sodium thiopental came from Great Britain.  The state continues to try to kill Jeffrey Landrigan with this drug, and continues to try to keep details of their supplier a secret, using a law that shields the Arizona’s execution team from public scrutiny.  So an as yet unnamed British pharmaceutical company is now a member of Arizona’s execution team. 

As our allies in Europe are dragged into this sordid execution mess, Arizona soldiers on with its attempt to carry out this execution (in defiance of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights).  The full 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the US Supreme Court are likely to weigh in later today.

But whatever the outcome, two important points are worth mentioning.  First, many people are now ashamed to be associated with the death penalty, and that includes those charged with carrying it out.  Though ostensibly for the purpose of protecting execution team members from harassment by death penalty opponents (who rarely do anything more than deliver petitions and sternly worded letters), the real purpose of the Arizona law (and similar laws in others states, and an even more extreme effort in Texas), is to drive capital punishment into the shadows.  The death penalty is not as popular as it used to be, because people are realizing that it involves things like states acquiring non-approved pharmaceuticals in shady and secretive ways and then using those drugs to kill people.  Of course such efforts to hide these ugly realities only draw more attention to them.

It also bears mentioning that the judge who passed the death sentence on Jeffrey Landrigan now says she was wrong.  When the US Supreme Court rejected Landrigan’s bid for a hearing on his lawyer’s failure to present important mitigating evidence, Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, asserted that the mitigating evidence would have made no difference.  The judge who was actually there has said the exact opposite – that the mitigating evidence would have made all the difference. 

Even our highest courts don’t always get things right, especially when they try to predict the future.  All supporters of fairness in our justice system, whether opposing capital punishment or not, should be disturbed by the slipshod way this case has been handled, and by the ongoing collateral damage our death penalty continues to do.