Gov. Bill Lee: ‘No reason to speed this process up’ to resume executions in TN

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The South Carolina Department of Corrections announced Tuesday that after 12 years of paused executions, the state now has the execution drug it needed.

However, despite having once searched for months to acquire the same drug and having halted executions in Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tennessee) sees “no reason to speed up this process” of establishing new lethal injection protocols.

“It’s a long process, but what I would add to that is we’re not going to take a single shortcut,” Lee said. “We have to get it exactly right.”

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Pentobarbital slows down the brain and nervous system and, in addition to being used to execute death row inmates, is used to euthanize animals.

According to a third-party investigation into Tennessee’s lethal injection protocols following the halting of Oscar Smith’s execution, in 2016, Tennessee spent months trying to find pentobarbital. The state had used the drug in the past as part of a one-drug protocol for executions, but was struggling to find it.

“The Pharmacy Owner and Drug Procurer also considered the possibility of obtaining Pentobarbital from a veterinarian because ‘[t]hey sometimes have better access to it since it’s widely used for euthanasia in animals.’ That effort never came to fruition,” wrote the report’s authors.

Robin Maher with the Death Penalty Information Center said many other states with capital punishment had similar issues.

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“A number of manufacturers stopped either manufacturing the drugs or providing them to prisons for use in executions, and so that forced everyone to sort of reconsider what kind of drugs were going to be used,” Maher explained.

In a news release, South Carolina attributed part of their success in obtaining the drug to their Shield Statute, which keeps the identity of the drug supplier for lethal injections private.

The state also said it made “more than 1,300 contacts in search of lethal injection drugs. Those inquiries included drug manufacturers, suppliers, compounding pharmacies, and other potential sources.”

While Tennessee has a similar law in place, Lee said he wants the state to develope a protocol that is “legally appropriate” and “transparent and open”.

“We’re in the process of developing that protocol. It takes some time to do that. There’s kind of a back and forth process,” Lee said.

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Maher applauded Lee’s careful approach to resuming executions, but also added an extra call for transparency.

“I would also encourage him to make those protocols available to the public and to anyone else that wants to see them, so that we can be sure they’re not going to result in any more mistakes or botched executions,” she said.

The Tennessee Department of Correction did not respond for a request for comment on the timeline for resuming executions.

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