Judge rules Angola officials must submit execution plans

Officials of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola must surrender the details of their plans to execute two convicted murderers, a federal judge ruled Tuesday in Baton Rouge.

Prison officials “shall provide the protocols to the (death row inmates) within 14 days,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen C. Riedlinger wrote as he rejected motions by state attorneys for a protective order that would have kept that information secret from the public.

Riedlinger added that state officials “have not shown good cause for the court to issue the protective order they sought.” The judge also said state officials failed to provide “even one example of improper interference with an execution caused by or related to the dissemination of the current or any previous Louisiana execution protocol.”

On May 15, Jacqueline B. Wilson, an attorney representing the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, told Riedlinger public dissemination of execution details would place “the entire process at risk of manipulation.”

Added Wilson: “This would place not only the offender scheduled to die in danger, but also the other inmates on the premises, the employees at Angola, and the third parties present for the execution.”

Michael D. Rubenstein, an attorney for death row inmate Jessie Hoffman, countered Monday that neither Hoffman nor condemned killer Christopher Sepulvado know anything “about the method by which (prison officials) seek to kill them.”

Both the public and the inmates should know how Louisiana’s lethal drugs are “refrigerated and/or stored,” Rubenstein told Riedlinger.

Prison officials argue public disclosure of execution details “would place the individual (they) plan to kill ‘in danger,’” Rubenstein noted. “But the real danger to condemned inmates is the risk of being executed pursuant to an undisclosed and unevaluated procedure potentially involving expired drugs.”

Hoffman, 34, does not yet have an execution date, but he argued in January that the state’s cocktail of lethal injection drugs possibly could subject him to an excruciatingly painful death.

Hoffman, of New Orleans, is on death row for the 1996 kidnap, robbery, rape and murder of 28-year-old advertising executive Mary “Molly” Elliot.

Sepulvado, 69, of DeSoto Parish, was sentenced to death for the 1992 beating and scalding murder of his 6-year-old stepson, Wesley Allen Mercer.

Gary P. Clements, attorney for Sepulvado, won a court-ordered stay of his client’s scheduled February execution by joining Hoffman’s attorneys in arguing that information was needed from prison officials about the chemicals they would use to kill both inmates.

U.S. District Judge James J. Brady issued an order in February that blocks executions in Louisiana until after prison officials provide requested details of the lethal-injection process it will use for its new drug, pentobarbital.

Prison officials could ask Brady to overrule Riedlinger’s order to release their execution protocol within two weeks.

Already pending at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans is a request by prison officials for reversal of Brady’s stay of Sepulvado’s execution.

“The overwhelming medical evidence by experts from both sides is that using a single dose of pentobarbital is more humane than the three-drug combination” formerly used for executions in Louisiana, Wilson told the appellate panel in the request filed May 30.