South Carolina lacks the lethal injection drugs needed to execute inmate

Posted at 7:33 AM, Nov 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-22 07:33:03-05

South Carolina lacks the drugs it needs to execute a death row inmate, who was scheduled to die on December 1.

The inmate, Bobby Wayne Stone had been convicted of killing a police officer, Sgt. Charlie Kubala in 1997. As the execution looked unlikely to happen next week, Stone was granted a stay of execution by a US district judge on Tuesday.

South Carolina lacks three drugs: pentobarbital, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride. The first (pentobarbital) puts the prisoner to sleep, the second (pancuronium bromide) brings on paralysis, and the final agent (potassium chloride) stops the heart.

“All of those drugs are expired or we’re unable to get them and we’ve returned them to the manufacturer because they have been expired,” said Bryan Stirling, director of the states Department of Corrections in a Monday press briefing.

Drugs used for lethal injection have become harder to get as manufacturers don’t want their products used in executions.

“The reason we don’t have the drugs, despite intense efforts to get them is because the companies that make them, the distributors who distribute them and the pharmacists that may have to compound them don’t want to be identified,” said South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster.

States search for execution drugs

This has caused several states to scramble to find the drugs while trying to come up with alternatives.

Stirling wouldn’t talk about what other protocols South Carolina is looking at, except to say, “We’re looking at every option.”

States that are in similar situations have switched to a one-drug lethal injection, used compounding pharmacies to create or mix drugs, and looked to new cocktails.

Nevada seeks to use a new three-drug cocktail that includes fentanyl for an execution, which is under legal challenge.

In August, Florida executed Mark Asay using etomidate, a drug that had not previously been used in the US for lethal injection in place of the sedative, midazolam.

Although death sentences are still being handed down, many states are not scheduling executions because they don’t have the drugs needed for lethal injection. Executions have decreased in recent years, but increased this year to 23, up from the 20 in the previous year, according to Death Penalty Information Center.

South Carolina governor advocates shield laws

On Monday, Gov. McMaster and Stirling pushed South Carolina legislators to pass a state shield law, which would keep entities and drug suppliers used for lethal injections confidential.

McMaster said that states are struggling to procure the drugs used in executions because suppliers and people involved don’t want to be identified.

“They are afraid that their names will be made known and they don’t want to have anything to do with it, for fear of retribution or exposure of themselves, their families, their businesses… all perfectly good reasons,” the governor said.

“So here we are at a dead stop and we can’t do anything about it unless and until our legislature enacts the shield law.”

But critics have slammed such shield laws, which have passed in several states including Ohio, Texas, Arizona, and Oklahoma as secrecy. They say states are able to change their lethal injection practices with different drugs without any public input or oversight, and hide what they are doing.

South Carolina has 39 inmates on death row and has not carried out an execution since 2011.

Death row inmates there have a choice of the electric chair or lethal injection — the vast majority (46 out of 48) have selected the latter after the drug option was introduced in 1995.