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Tennessee Failed To Test Execution Drugs Properly Since 2018

Tennessee has not complied with its own lethal injection process since it was revised in 2018, resulting in several executions being conducted without proper testing of the drugs used, found an independent review released Wednesday. The report was requested by Gov. Bill Lee, who paused all executions in May after acknowledging the state had failed to ensure its lethal injection drugs were properly tested. The oversight forced Lee to halt the execution of Oscar Smith an hour before he was to have been put to death. Tennessee has put seven inmates to death since it ended a prior pause in executions in 2018, two by injection and five in the electric chair. In none of those did the pharmacy conduct a required test for endotoxins, and in one lethal injection that was carried out, the drug midazolam was not tested for potency, reports Associated Press. The independent review found no evidence that the state provided the pharmacy in charge of testing the drugs with a copy of its lethal injection protocol. The state has repeatedly argued that midazolam renders an inmate unconscious and unable to feel pain. The report showed that in 2017, state correction officials were warned by a pharmacist that midazolam “`does not elicit strong analgesic effects,′ meaning ‘the subjects may be able to feel pain from the administration of the second and third drugs.’”


Lee appointed former U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton to review the circumstances that led to the failure. Stanton’s report rebuked corrections leaders for viewing “the lethal injection process through a tunnel-vision, result-oriented lens” and claimed the agency failed to provide staff “with the necessary guidance and counsel needed to ensure that Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol was thorough, consistent, and followed.” Lee plans leadership changes in the department and will hire a permanent commissioner in January. The new leaders, he said, will change the lethal injection protocol by cooperating with the governor’s and attorney general’s offices and will revise training. Federal Public Defender Kelley Henry said the review exposed “troubling findings,” including the “shocking” news that the department never gave a copy of the lethal injection protocol to the pharmacist who made and tested the drugs. The state must do everything in its power to avoid the execution botches we have seen in other states and in Tennessee in the recent past,” Henry said. “What we learned today is that secrecy in our state’s execution process breeds a lack of accountability, sloppiness, and a high risk of horrifying mistakes.”

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