Virginia to execute convicted murderer after Texas supplies lethal injection drug
Gurney used for lethal injections (AFP)

After extraditing Alfredo Prieto from California because the state was taking too long to kill him, Virginia is set to execute the serial killer using drugs from Texas.


The Texas department of criminal justice confirmed on Friday that it has sent three vials of pentobarbital to the Virginia department of corrections, which is preparing to put Prieto to death on 1 October.

Related: Federal judge's order suspends use of two drugs in Mississippi executions

States have struggled to source execution drugs in recent years because of boycotts by the drugs’ European-based manufacturers. Last spring Texas admitted to an acute shortage of pentobarbital and, like other death penalty states, enacted a state law keeping the identity of drug suppliers confidential, supposedly to safeguard them from threats.

Jason Clark, a TDCJ spokesman, said that the law prevents the agency from disclosing the identity of its supplier. But the court documents which first revealed the deal with Virginia offer a possible explanation of how Texas has overcome its problems and recently stockpiled enough of the sedative to share it.

Lawyers attempting to stop Oklahoma inmates being executed using the controversial sedative midazolam claim in court papers that Texas is making its own pentobarbital. They argue that Oklahoma could do the same – or else get it from the Lone Star State like Virginia.

Clark said that the dispatched drugs “have been tested for potency and purity and will expire in April 2016”.

In a statement, he said that the transaction was a form of reciprocity: “In 2013, the Virginia Department of Corrections gave the Texas Department of Criminal Justice pentobarbital to use as a back up drug in an execution which was required by court order. Virginia’s drugs were not used.

“The agency earlier this year was approached by officials in Virginia and we reciprocated, gave them three vials of pentobarbital that was legally purchased from a pharmacy. The agency has not provided compounded drugs to any other state.”

Texas uses pentobarbital in a single-drug protocol. Virginia’s protocol calls for three drugs but their stock of midazolam is about to expire. Midazolam has been used in several botched executions in recent years, and its use was upheld in June by the US supreme court, which struck down a challenge from Oklahoma death row prisoners arguing that the drug constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

A representative of the Virginia department of corrections said that the pentobarbital from Texas is scheduled to be used in Prieto’s execution.

The cooperation in Prieto’s case demonstrates the problems states are having in carrying out death sentences, including difficulties obtaining suitable drugs and lengthy legal wranglings.

The El Salvador-born 49-year-old was on death row in California for a 1990 murder when Virginia prosecutors took him to the east coast in 2006 to face trial for other homicides. There has been a de facto moratorium on carrying out executions in California since 2006. Prieto was sentenced to death in Virginia in 2010.

Though it is third behind Texas and Oklahoma in the number of executions since 1976, Virginia last carried out a death sentence in January 2013, when Robert Gleason chose the electric chair instead of lethal injection. No one has died by lethal injection in Virginia since 2011.

Texas has put to death 10 prisoners in 2015, already matching its 2014 total, with another five scheduled this year.

Interactions between death penalty states made headlines last year when the Colorado Independent revealed that Texas officials emailed Oklahoma in 2011 for advice on how to cope with shortages. Colleagues in Oklahoma’s attorney general’s office joked in emails that they might help in exchange for sought-after college football tickets – referred to as “sideline passes for Team Pentobarbital”.

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