Texas executes killer after ruling on injection drug

Tommy Lynn Sells Sells declined to give a statement prior to execution

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A killer has been put to death in the American state of Texas amid controversy about where the state got supplies of its lethal injection drug.

Tommy Lynn Sells, 49, was the first inmate to be injected with a dose of recently replenished stocks of the powerful sedative pentobarbital.

US states are facing a shortage of execution drugs as a growing number of firms have refused to sell them.

Sells' lawyers tried unsuccessfully to find out the names of the suppliers.

Debate about the source of execution drugs has recently become contentious in several states as numerous drug makers have refused to sell their products if they are used in executions.

Opposition is especially strong among European drug makers, where concern over capital punishment is fiercest.

A lower court earlier stopped Sells' execution, ordering the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to reveal more information about the drug supplier, but its ruling was overturned on appeal.

The convicted man's attorneys argued that they needed to know the name of the pharmacy supplying the pentobarbital in order to verify the drug's quality and protect him from unconstitutional pain and suffering.

"Without transparency about lethal injections, particularly the source and purity of drugs to be used, it is impossible to ensure that executions are humane and constitutional," lawyers Maurie Levin and Jonathan Ross said in a statement.

Pentobarbital: Cruel or just?

Recent pentobarbital executions in the US:

  • October 2012: In South Dakota, Eric Robert turns purplish-blue; takes 20 minutes before state can declare him dead
  • January 2014: Oklahoma death-row inmate Michael Lee Wilson cries out he feels his "whole body burning" within 20 seconds of injection
  • January 2014: In Missouri, Herbert Smulls's execution takes nine minutes; he shows no outward signs of distress

Source: BBC reporting

But the Supreme Court agreed with Texas prison officials, who argued that information about the drug supplier must be kept secret to protect the pharmacy from threats of violence.

The justices did not elaborate on the reasoning behind their ruling, which was issued about an hour before Sells' execution.

Last month a pharmacy in the state of Oklahoma said that it would not supply pentobarbital to neighbouring Missouri for use in an execution.

Sells was convicted of murder in 2000 for stabbing Kaylene Harris, 13, to death and slashing her 10-year-old friend, Krystal Surles, who survived and helped police find him.

US media reports said Sells had confessed to as many as 70 killings across the US.

He declined to give a statement prior to his execution.

Sells was pronounced dead 13 minutes after being given the pentobarbital.

His execution was the fifth lethal injection this year in Texas, the busiest state in the US for enforcing the death penalty.

Nearly 1,400 men have been put to death since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

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