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Appeals court won't block order for La. to disclose maker, seller of execution drugs

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NEW ORLEANS — A federal appeals court Thursday refused to block a lower court's order requiring the state to provide a condemned killer with information about the seller and maker of drugs the state uses in executions.

Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc and Louisiana State Penitentiary Warden Burl Cain have argued that if they identify how they're getting the drugs, they could have trouble buying more because companies don't want to be known as helping in an execution.

However, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the argument, noting that U.S. District Judge James Brady's order, as amended earlier this month, only requires that the information be given to death row prisoner Christopher Sepulvado, his defense lawyers, defense team experts and court personnel.

"The petitioners received much of the relief they sought in their motion for a protective order: the district court directed them to turn over the requested information, but prohibited any party from receiving or sharing the information other than Sepulvado, his counsel, his approved experts, and court personnel," said the opinion issued by a three-judge panel of Patrick Higginbotham, James Dennis and James Graves.

The state's effort to keep the execution drug information hidden is part of an ongoing federal lawsuit filed by attorneys representing Sepulvado and others on death row.

The lawsuit seeks more details about Louisiana's execution method, to determine whether it violates a condemned inmate's constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment.

Louisiana's last execution in 2010 used three chemicals, but sodium thiopental, a key anesthetic in the process, became impossible for the corrections department to obtain. Prison officials then planned to use pentobarbital, a powerful sedative, as the single lethal injection drug, but the corrections department had trouble buying it.

In January, the state announced a new execution protocol that would use a two-drug combination, following the method carried out for the first time in Ohio. It includes the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone.

The change came only days before Louisiana planned to execute Sepulvado for the murder of his 6-year-old stepson two decades ago. After objections from Sepulvado's lawyer, Sepulvado's lethal injection was delayed.

Brady will hold a trial about the constitutionality of the new execution protocol on June 16.

A spokeswoman for the Corrections Department had not yet seen the ruling and had no comment. A message left with an attorney and death penalty opponent involved in the case was not returned.

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