Federal judge calls off Wednesday execution

A federal judge in Baton Rouge ruled Thursday that the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections cannot execute convicted child killer Christopher Sepulvado on Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge James J. Brady said at the end of a hearing of more than two hours that state officials forced him to take that action by refusing for years to provide Sepulvado and his attorneys with details of the execution process. Brady said that lack of information includes questions about the supply of death-dealing drugs used for lethal injections.

“The intransigence of the state … in failing to produce the protocol requires the court to issue this order,” Brady added.

As long as Brady’s order remains in force, no death row inmate can be executed in Louisiana, Gary P. Clements, Supulvado’s attorney, said after the hearing.

Sepulvado, 69, of DeSoto Parish, was convicted on a charge of murder in 1993. Jurors decided that Sepulvado beat and scalded to death his 6-year-old stepson, Wesley Allen Mercer, in 1992.

In DeSoto Parish, District Attorney Richard Z. Johnson Jr. said late Thursday that he and the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office would ask the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Brady’s order and reinstate corrections officials’ plans for the execution of Sepulvado.

“We (in DeSoto Parish) are going to file a friend-of-the-court brief backing the attorney general’s decision to appeal,” Johnson added.

In Baton Rouge, Attorney General Buddy Caldwell issued a written statement through Communications Director Amanda Papillion Larkins: “This horrific murder of a 6-year-old occurred over 20 years ago. A jury handed down a death sentence for this murderer, and over the past 16 years, state and federal courts at all levels have confirmed his guilt.”

Caldwell also wrote: “We respectfully disagree with Judge Brady’s ruling to indefinitely delay these proceedings at the 11th hour and are confident we will prevail on appeal.”

Larkins said Caldwell and his assistants would ask the 5th Circuit “to review the case as expeditiously as possible.”

Sean Lansing, press secretary to Gov. Bobby Jindal, said of the state’s lethal injection process: “We are confident the method of carrying out this sentence is an acceptable procedure under the United States and Louisiana constitutions.”

But Sophie Cull, director of the Louisiana Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said in an email that she disagrees with state officials’ view of the dispute.

“It is troubling that the state will not disclose the details of how it intends to kill Chris Sepulvado and others on Death Row in Louisiana,” Cull said.

“Transparency in government is vital to our democracy and key to ensuring that a legal procedure — here, the most extreme act a government can take against an individual — accords with Louisiana law and the U.S. Constitution,” Cull added.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider Sepulvado’s appeal several years ago.

But Brady ruled Thursday that corrections officials wrongly denied Sepulvado’s request for all details of his planned execution. The judge noted that Sepulvado and his attorneys did not know until this week that corrections officials have decided to execute him with a single dose of pentobarbital rather than a three-drug concoction used for the state’s last execution, that of Gerald Bordelon in 2010.

Wade Shows, attorney for the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, told Brady that attorneys for Sepulvado and another death row inmate, Jessie Hoffman, waited too late to challenge the state’s lethal injection program on the possibility it might cause convicted murderers extreme pain.

Shows argued the inmates should have requested the state’s lethal injection information earlier through specific questions attached to their court suits.

Shows noted that six states — Arizona, Idaho, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas and Washington — already use a single dose of pentobarbital to execute death row inmates.

“We want to do it appropriately,” Shows said of the release of information about Louisiana’s lethal-injection process.

“You have been trying to obtain this protocol since 2010?” Brady asked Clements, Sepulvado’s attorney.

“That is correct,” Clements said.

Clements said Sepulvado cannot adequately challenge the state’s latest lethal-injection plan until corrections officials provide the source and age of their pentobarbital supply and confirm that supply is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“It’s a Catch-22 situation,” Clements told the judge.

After Brady issued his order, Shows handed him an affidavit by Mary B. Labatut, pharmacy director at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

Labatut said in that affidavit: “I have personal knowledge that (Angola) currently has in stock the drug pentobarbital, purchased from Lundbeck, Inc., of Deerfield, Illinois.”

That is not enough information, Clements said after the hearing. He said state officials also must provide the age of those drugs and identify the location where they were manufactured.

“I need the whole supply chain,” Clements said.