The United States is right now experiencing a shortage of a key drug used in lethal injection cocktails. So far, that hasn't stopped most states who wanted to execute death row inmates. Now it turns out that's because they may have been sharing drugs illegally. And some newly publicized documents show state officials were pretty glib about potentially circumventing the law to perform executions.
The New York Times has a report today on how that sharing, and the import of the sedative sodium thiopental from a U.K. manufacturer, may have violated U.S. drug laws. The article touches on one previously publicized e-mail exchange between Arizona prison officials and those at San Quentin, in California, coordinating the overland delivery of some sodium thiopental for a San Quentin execution. "You guys are life-savers," a San Quentin official said in a thank-you note to Arizona.
That's not the only forehead-slapping line in the 252 pages of e-mail transcripts from prison officials posted today on the Times Web site. A quick perusal turned up some language in the messages that, while normal in an everyday business transaction, seems less than appropriate when dealing with a drug whose purpose is to kill people.
In Georgia, officials trying to buy a new shipment of the drug directly from a supplier in the United Kingdom, but were stymied when they couldn't pay using a credit card:
Nothing like a credit card snafu to inconvenience you in your upcoming execution.
An Arizona official, coordinating a shipment of the drug with U.S. Customs officers, passed on a message to "Gary," presumably familiar to a colleague:
Just a nice smiley to brighten your day while buying some poison.
Kentucky launched an "exhaustive and comprehensive search" for the drug, despite the fact that the state's department of corrections was under injunction not to carry out any executions. Officials wanted to have some on hand for "if and when the stay is lifted."
The ramifications of the records are already being felt. Last week, the U.S. Drug Enforcement agency seized the Georgia's supply of the chemical, which it said had been acquired illegally, "effectively block[ing] Georgia from scheduling and carrying out any executions." But the state corrections departments, being pals, are already collaborating on replacing the drug with a more readily available compound. That seems like the move you'd make in the first place, rather than circumventing the DEA, but what do we know?