By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On the second day of a trial over Tennessee’s lethal injection protocols, testimony centered on the role of compounding pharmacists and whether a person can be legally dead if he or she can still be revived.
Tennessee’s protocol calls for the use of pentobarbital mixed to order by a pharmacist. That’s because the only commercial producer of the drug has placed restrictions on its distribution to prevent it from being used in executions.
Dr. James Ruble is a professor with the University of Utah College of Pharmacy. He testified Wednesday that Tennessee’s protocol lacks the safeguards to prevent problems with the compounded drug and could cause the condemned inmate to suffer extreme pain.
Attorneys for the state tried to show Tennessee Board of Pharmacy regulations are sufficient to guard against such problems. Under cross-examination, Ruble said a pharmacist who doesn’t follow proper procedures will be at risk of losing his or her license. But he also said compounded pentobarbital is considered a high-risk category of compounding, even when everything is done correctly.
Later Wednesday, resuscitation expert Dr. Lance Becker testified that some inmates could be revived a half-hour or more after execution.
Attorney Steve Kissinger is representing the 33 Tennessee death row inmates suing over lethal injection. He said that someone who can still be revived is not legally dead under Tennessee law. That means the inmates are subjected to a lingering death, which amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, Kissinger said.
He also argued that the state pronounces an inmate’s sentence served about five minutes after execution. “After that, the state has no legal authority over his body,” Kissinger argued.
Assistant Attorney General Linda Kirklen argued that Becker’s testimony was irrelevant because a sentence of death is final and irreversible. There is no chance an inmate will be resuscitated, she said.
The trial comes a week after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Oklahoma’s lethal injection procedure, which uses different drugs than Tennessee, but the case considered some of the same broad issues.