Connecticut has 11 inmates on death row yet no access to the lethal injection drugs the state would use to perform those executions, a problem lawyers say could add years to litigation over those sentences.
Karen Martucci, the acting director of external affairs for the Department of Correction, acknowledged in an email to The Associated Press that Connecticut has no stock of the three execution drugs mandated for use by the department.
State directives require the use of sodium thiopental, which induces unconsciousness; pancuronium bromide, which causes muscle paralysis and respiratory arrest; and potassium chloride, which stops the heart.
Many domestic and foreign drugmakers have objected to using their products in executions, leading to acute drug shortages for executions across the nation.
“There’s no state that I know of that currently has access to these drugs,” said Michael Lawlor, the state’s undersecretary of criminal justice policy.
Asked what Connecticut would do if it were required to carry out an execution, Lawlor said he did not know. He said the state is closely watching litigation in other states.
“There is no execution imminent in Connecticut, so we can wait and see,” he said.
Michael Courtney, who heads the capital defense unit of the state’s public defender’s office, said the problem could lead to years of additional litigation for Connecticut’s death row inmates.
Attorneys would want to know where any new supply of the drugs came from, how they have been tested and how the protocols for using them were drawn up.
“There is a lot of room for us to challenge, and we will,” Courtney said.
Lethal injection is used for capital punishment by the federal government and all 32 states where the death penalty has not been abolished. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court found that execution by a three-drug mixture does not violate the Constitution.
But some states are considering changing their method of execution, with lawmakers talking about bringing back the electric chair, firing squad and gas chamber.
Any further legislative change in Connecticut, which already has abolished the death penalty going forward, would likely prompt a new round of legal challenges, attorneys said.
“Now, the state’s only alternative is to engage in barbaric experimentation,” said David McGuire, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut. “The state previously had a bad option, and now it has a worse option. It’s a real problem.”
The only person executed in the state since 1960 was serial killer Michael Ross, who was put to death in 2005 after he voluntarily gave up his appeals.
Courtney said while no other death row inmate is nearing the end of his appeals, the lethal injection issue could become relevant quickly should another inmate give up his appeals and “volunteer” for execution.