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Clock is ticking on executions in the state due to drug shortage

By: Gabriel Roxas Email
By: Gabriel Roxas Email

The Kentucky Supreme Court is deciding whether to allow executions in the state, but the clock is ticking on Kentucky's ability to conduct them at least until the end of the year.

That's because of a nationwide shortage of one of the drugs used in Kentucky's death penalty protocol. The state currently has only enough of the drug for one execution and that one dose expires after this week.

It's been almost 20 years since a jury convicted Ralph Baze of killing Powell County Sheriff, Steve Bennett and Deputy Arthur Briscoe during an attempted arrest.

Last year, the Attorney General requested that the Governor issue death warrants for Baze and 2 others, saying the entire appellate process for all three had been exhausted, but the legal process wasn't the only delay.

In a memo to the Governor, the Secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet explained the state didn't have enough sodium thiopental, also known as pentothal, for 3 executions, only one. He went on to recommend that Gregory Wilson, who of the 3 had been on death row the longest, be the first to be executed. The Governor ordered Wilson's execution for September 16, more than 2 weeks before that single dose of pentothal expires on October 1.

Since then, questions about Wilson's mental condition and other questions about Kentucky's death penalty protocol led a judge to halt Wilson's execution and any other execution until those issues are addressed. The Attorney General appealed that decision to the Kentucky Supreme Court, which isn't expected to rule until October 21.

Kentucky isn't alone. Several states lack enough pentothal for their scheduled executions. The only U.S. manufacturer, a company named Hospira, told Kentucky officials it has lost its sole supplier of the drug's active ingredient and won't be able to ship any more until the beginning of next year at the earliest.

It's a frustrating situation for many. Deputy Robert Matthews served with both of the victims in the Ralph Baze case. He says even if the drug shortage spares Baze only temporarily, the long delay is difficult on the victims' loved ones.

Multiple states use Kentucky's execution method because it has passed constitutional scrutiny. If there's a change, it could lead to legal challenges across the nation.


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