Texas executed its first prisoner with a single dose of pentobarbital on July 18, 2012. His name was Yokamon Hearn. He was 19 years old when he and three co-defendants kidnapped and killed a man in Dallas, Texas. He was the only one of the four executed.
The state has since executed 81 inmates with the single drug protocol with 9 more executions scheduled in 2019.
Texas is one of five states (Georgia, Idaho, Missouri, and South Dakota) that now use the single dose of pentobarbital. Ohio became the first state on March 10, 2011 to execute a person with a single dose of pentobarbital. The execution of 37-year-old Johnnie Baston in the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility was uneventful. Ohio abandoned the single drug protocol in 2016, returning to its previous three-drug protocol.
At the urging of President Trump and at the direction of Attorney General William Barr, the U.S. Justice Department recently announced that it will also use the single dose of pentobarbital to carry out five hastily arranged executions—three in December and two in January. It’s part of the president’s reelection strategy to pander to the blood thirsty, tough on crime constituency.
Pentobarbital is a barbiturate also known as Nembutal which has a historical medical use as a sedative and anesthetic in hospitals. It became more widely known as a “sleeping pill” that produces death after famed Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe used it in 1962 to commit suicide.
Watered Down Euthanasia Drugs Used in Death Penalty Capital of World
The drug is now used in The Netherlands and Switzerland by euthanasia organizations to carry out assisted suicides. Some medical sources say two grams of the drug is considered fatal while others say the only reliable death producing dosage is a minimum of six grams. The Dutch euthanasia organizations use 9 grams of the drug while the Swiss euthanasia organization, Dignitas, uses 15 grams and believes this dosage produces a “peaceful death.”
Texas uses a 5-gram dose of the drug to carry out its executions, a death produced by respiratory arrest. Whether that dosage produces a peaceful death is uncertain because the drug used by Texas (and other pentobarbital execution states) are produced by “compounding pharmacies” that have a history of producing contaminated, even fatal drugs.
The Texas Tribune reported in November 2018 that Texas has indeed turned to unreliable compounding pharmacies to secure pentobarbital. According to BuzzFeed News, one of those pharmacies is the Houston-based Greenpark Compounding Pharmacy which has been cited for 48 practice violations by the Texas State Board of Pharmacy in the past eight years, and even had its license suspended in 2016. These violations include “keeping out-of-date drugs in stock, using improper procedures to prepare IV solutions, and inadequate cleaning of hands and gloves.”
BuzzFeed pointed out that five of the eleven inmates put to death in Texas in 2018 said they could feel burning sensations upon injection of the compound-made pentobarbital prior to being rendered unconscious. The news outlet quoted Dr. David Waisel statements in a 2016 affidavit about compounding pharmacies:
“Improper compounding and testing procedures may leave fine particles undetectable by the naked eye in the solution or larger particles that would not be detected by an untrained eye. These particles can cause great irritation to the vein, resulting in extraordinary pain.”
Texas Legislature Hides Purveyors of Death Meds
In an effort to hide the sketchy reputations of some of the compounding pharmacies who provide their craft to intentionally kill people, the Texas Legislature in 2015 passed a bill preserving the confidentiality of any drug manufacturer who supplies execution drugs to the state.
This past April the Texas Supreme Court agreed with the Legislature, finding that since the public disclosure of the identity of any drug manufacturer who produces lethal injection drugs for the state would subject them to a substantial risk of physical harm, their identities must be kept confidential.
The last execution in Texas occurred on September 10, 2019 when 37-year-old Mark Anthony Soliz was given a single dose of pentobarbital. Witnesses said he gasped, snorted, and appeared to fall asleep as the drug was administered. He was pronounced dead 18 minutes later.
Soliz’s death appeared peaceful. We don’t know if the vial of pentobarbital that killed Soliz came from the Houston-based Greenpark Compounding Pharmacy or not. Perhaps they supplied a good vial of the drug to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
But what about the next vial?
We don’t know if it will be good or not. Thanks to the Texas Supreme Court we won’t even know who produced it.
And to make matters worse, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott plans to call a special session of the state legislature to speed up executions, ostensibly in his effort to confront mass shooters, which will inevitably be used to hasten the ultimate penalty for all those on the state’s death row.
Dark days are indeed descending upon Texas criminal justice.