BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge James Brady ordered the Department of Corrections to disclose within five days where it obtained the lethal injection drugs.
Lawyers for Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc and Warden Burl Cain had argued that if they reveal how the state is getting the drugs, they could have trouble buying more because companies don't want to be known as helping facilitate an execution.
They said identifying information could subject the drug manufacturers, suppliers and testing labs to harassment and other attention that could be damaging to their businesses.
But attorneys representing the prisoner scheduled for Louisiana's next execution opposed the state's attempt to hide the information, saying corrections officials failed to offer proof of their claims that disclosure could cause problems.
"The mere potentiality of harassment and adverse consequences is insufficient to overcome the Plaintiffs' need to adequately present their case," the judge wrote in his decision.
Brady ordered most of the responses filed without shielding, but he agreed to let the corrections department file information about the health care workers who will be performing the execution under seal, hidden from the public.
"While the Court finds that this identifying information is relevant and pertinent to the Plaintiffs' claims, the Court also deems it prudent to protect the privacy of the individuals who will be directly and personally involved in the process of carrying out the execution," Brady wrote.
The state's request for a protective order to keep the execution drug information hidden was made in the back-and-forth of an ongoing federal lawsuit filed by attorneys representing two men 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 a lethal injection in Ohio that includes the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone.
The change came only days before Louisiana planned to execute Christopher Sepulvado for the murder of his 6-year-old stepson two decades ago. After objections from Sepulvado's lawyer, the state agreed to a 90-day postponement of Sepulvado's lethal injection.
Brady will hold a trial about the constitutionality of the new execution protocol on April 7.