Unable to find a lethal injection drug for death row inmates, TDOC looked to an animal doctor, report says

TDOC Lethal Injection Drugs Veterinarian.jpg
Posted at 8:06 PM, Jan 04, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-04 23:26:15-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Nashville attorney David Raybin helped draft Tennessee's death penalty laws, and he doesn't mince words when reading through the recently-released independent report revealing the Tennessee Department of Correction has failed to follow its own rules when executing death row inmates since 2018.

"This is the most profound report I've seen in 30 years on lethal injections," Raybin said.

The detail in the report, including hundreds of pages of emails, texts and policy manuals, reveals a Department of Correction employee running into difficulty trying to find drugs to kill death row inmates, starting as early as 2017.

First, the documents reveal, TDOC was looking for Pentobarbital — a single-drug option for lethal injections that other states use.

Emails between TDOC and the pharmacy it works with reveal the agency was looking at importing the drug from a different country.

Years earlier, TDOC had even asked the pharmacy if they could get the drug through a veterinarian, but it didn't work out.

"You don't give drugs that you give to animals to people," Raybin said. "It just shows a callousness, I suppose, on the part of TDOC."

TDOC's struggle to find lethal injection drugs came as several drug companies told the prison they objected to the use of their drugs in executions and wouldn't sell them to TDOC.

"Many drug companies do not want to have their drugs used for executions," Raybin said. "They say we're here to save lives, not to take them."

Failing to find Pentobarbital, the report reveals TDOC switched to trying to find a different drug, Midazolam, despite warnings from TDOC's pharmacist that the drug may not be strong enough.

"The subjects may be able to feel pain," one email said, noting that may especially be the case after the injection of the final drug of the three-drug cocktail, potassium chloride, which is meant to stop the heart.

"I will pass this info on to the higher-ups," the TDOC employee replied, but the agency went ahead with the drug anyway once they found some.

"They don't care," Raybin said. "They're willing to accept the risk the inmate could suffer pain. They're being told one thing and they say, 'the heck with it, we'll just go ahead and do whatever we wish.'"

Raybin says with the appointment of a new TDOC commissioner from Arizona — a state with both the death penalty and a supply of Pentobarbital as of last year — it's possible Tennessee may suddenly have a new connection to get the drug it's been looking for all these years.

"Yes, but it is sort of ridiculous that we have to run around the country, begging and borrowing for drugs to kill people," Raybin said.

As Governor Lee has now ordered a review of Tennessee's current Lethal Injection protocol, Raybin says it's a review that couldn't be more important.

"People say, 'What difference does it make? The end result is death,'" Raybin said. "But the result should be humane and a process we have confidence in."

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