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Pharmacy expert: Problem with Georgia execution drug caused by storage at low temperature


ATLANTA — A problem with a lethal injection drug that caused the last-minute postponement of an execution in Georgia was likely caused by shipping and storing the drug at a temperature that was too low, according to an analysis by a pharmaceutical expert.

State officials on March 2 called off the scheduled execution of Kelly Renee Gissendaner, saying the lethal injection drug they intended to use appeared "cloudy."

The state Department of Corrections on Thursday released lab reports, a sworn statement from a pharmaceutical expert hired by the state and a short video showing a syringe of clear liquid with chunks of a white solid floating in the solution.

"After viewing a video of the solution and learning about the shipment and storage of the solution, my assessment of the formulation indicates that pentobarbital had precipitated or fallen out of solution," University of Georgia College of Pharmacy professor Jason Zastre wrote in a sworn statement.

There is no evidence that the solution was adulterated, Zastre wrote.

The compounded pentobarbital the department planned to use in Gissendaner's execution had been shipped on frozen gel packs and stored at about 37 degrees for more than seven days, Zastre wrote.

The most likely cause of the formation of solids is that the solution was shipped and stored at a temperature that was too low, Zastre wrote. Another possible cause could be that the pharmaceutical solvent used to dissolve pentobarbital sodium during the compounding process could have either absorbed some water or evaporated during preparation, he wrote.

"The State of Georgia can minimize the possibility of precipitation within the solution by storing the solution at a controlled room temperature above 59 degrees Fahrenheit, and by assuring that the pharmacist preparing the solution takes steps to minimize the possibility that the pharmaceutical solvent evaporates or absorbs water during the pharmaceutical compounding process," he wrote.

The department has reviewed the recommendations and plans to implement them, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gwendolyn Hogan said in an email.

The day after Gissendaner's execution was halted, corrections officials suspended executions in the state until the drug analysis was done. Hogan did not immediately respond to an email Thursday asking if the state planned to immediately resume scheduling executions.

Gissendaner's attorneys did not have a comment on the analysis.

In a court filing on March 9, they asked a judge to prohibit the state from proceeding with her execution until the court has concluded her constitutional rights will not be violated. They also asked the judge to order the state to disclose information necessary for a "meaningful investigation" into what happened.

Lawyers for the state on Thursday filed a motion to dismiss Gissendaner's civil rights complaint. Her claim that she suffered anguish and fear in the hours following the postponement of her execution because she didn't know if the state would try to proceed the next day is unfounded and she is not entitled to receive the additional information her lawyers requested, they argued.

Along with their filing, they submitted copies of the laboratory reports and Zastre's statement, as well as the video of the syringe.

Gissendaner is the only woman on Georgia's death row and would have been the first woman executed by the state in 70 years. She was convicted of murder in the February 1997 slaying of her husband, Douglas Gissendaner. Prosecutors said she conspired with her lover, Gregory Owen, who stabbed Douglas Gissendaner to death. Owen is serving a life prison sentence and is eligible for parole in eight years.

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