Bill to resolve state’s death penalty problems dies

Although legislators abandoned the idea of resurrecting the electric chair, 2014 still was supposed to be the year that some resolution was reached on problems with enforcing the death penalty in Louisiana.

House Bill 328 offered a two-prong solution: State officials wouldn’t have to disclose where they got the drugs used in lethal injections, and they could buy them from compounding pharmacies outside Louisiana. The bill breezed through both chambers and then died.

Gov. Bobby Jindal didn’t veto it. The Legislature didn’t vote it down. The bill’s author, state Rep. Joseph Lopinto, just never brought it up for a final vote.

Lopinto’s name also was on controversial legislation to set up a legal framework for surrogacy births in Louisiana. The governor vetoed the surrogacy legislation last week for the second year in a row.

On Wednesday, Lopinto said he was disappointed by the veto, especially at not being invited to take part in the conversation on the surrogacy bill’s fate. “The governor’s going to do what he’s going to do. He could’ve worked with me,” said Lopinto, R-Metairie.

Lopinto said the lethal injection measure only offered a short-term solution to an issue that is playing out in courts across the United States. He said he told the Jindal administration he was dropping the bill shortly after the surrogacy veto. “They didn’t try to convince me one way or other other,” he said.

Several news organizations, including The Associated Press, are challenging Missouri’s policy on keeping the source of its death penalty drugs a secret. A condemned killer on the state’s death row also is raising legal issues about the secrecy.

“We’re doing it piece meal. We’re doing a short-term solution on something, in my opinion, that is going to be solved by the (U.S.) Supreme Court,” Lopinto said.

The Jindal administration is trying to follow through with an execution sentence against convicted child killer Christopher Sepulvado. Sepulvado beat and scalded to death his young stepson in 1992.

Sepulvado delayed his execution by raising legal challenges about the state’s plans to use the controversial combination of the sedative midazolam and the pain medication hydromorphone to kill him. The combination became a necessary alternative after the Jindal administration failed to find a supplier for the preferred lethal injection drug of pentobarbital.

European drug manufacturers are cracking down on their products’ use in execution chambers, making it difficult to find pentobarbital. An added complication in Louisiana is a restriction against state officials calling a compounding pharmacy in another state and placing an order.

In May, the Jindal administration pushed back a June court hearing on Sepulvado’s drug challenges until November. The administration said the delay was necessary “as the Legislature considers alternative methods of execution and as the Department (of Public Safety and Corrections) is reviewing the most effective dosage levels for the drug protocol.”

The delay came not long after an Oklahoma inmate named Clayton Lockett mumbled and tried to lift his head more than 10 minutes after drugs were pumped into his veins in April. Oklahoma used midazolam, the same drug Louisiana plans to inject into Sepulvado, and two other drugs.

State Department of Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc declined an interview request Wednesday. In a prepared statement, he said the House did adopt House Resolution 142 to study and make recommendations on the best practices for administering the death penalty. A report is due by January. Meanwhile, the state has the sedative midazolam and the pain medication hydromorphone in stock. The drugs expire next year.

“Justice will be served according to the law,” LeBlanc said.

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