Questions about drugs halt Sepulvado execution

April trial set for review of protocol

Lingering questions Monday about Louisiana’s lethal injection procedure, particularly the drugs to be used, prompted the scrubbing of Wednesday’s scheduled execution of condemned child killer Christopher Sepulvado.

The state has not put an inmate to death since 2010.

A trial on the constitutionality of Louisiana’s execution protocol is set for April 7 in federal District Court in Baton Rouge, said Pam Laborde, state Department of Public Safety and Corrections spokeswoman, in a prepared statement.

“I just think it’s crazy,” said Yvonne Jones, mother of the 6-year-old victim in the case, Wesley Allen Mercer, in a statement of her own. “The only reason they’re delaying the stuff is he (Sepulvado) might suffer a few minutes. My son suffered.”

Jones said five minutes of suffering is nothing compared with her son’s brutal death.

Gov. Bobby Jindal insisted Sepulvado will pay for his crime.

“State attorneys voluntarily agreed to this 90-day stay to give the court the opportunity to review the process and settle all legal challenge,” Jindal said in a prepared statement. “We are committed to carrying out the sentence for this heinous crime handed down by the court.”

Sepulvado, 70, was sentenced to death for beating and scalding Mercer — his stepson — to death in 1992. The boy died at DeSoto General Hospital of severe burns after being dropped into a bathtub filled with hot water. He had third-degree burns over 58 percent of his body as well as significant hemorrhaging and bruising.

The announcement of the halting of Sepulvado’s execution came several hours after attorneys for Sepulvado and the state met Monday morning in private with U.S. District Judge James Brady and U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Riedlinger at the federal courthouse in Baton Rouge.

Attorneys for Sepulvado, fellow Louisiana death-row inmate Jessie Hoffman and the Jindal administration have been battling in court over the details of the executions.

The condemned killers want to know what drugs will be used and from whom they will be purchased. Hoffman’s attorneys also attended the in-chambers meeting with Brady and Riedlinger.

“The department has been committed throughout the entire process to following the court’s direction, and carrying out the sentence humanely and in accordance with the law,” Laborde said Monday in reference to Sepulvado’s execution.

Sepulvado’s attorneys had asked Brady on Jan. 27 to delay his execution.

Jindal announced Friday that Louisiana has the drugs it needs — the sedative midazolam and the pain medication hydromorphone — to put Sepulvado to death. The state abruptly switched to that controversial combination of drugs because it could not obtain pentobarbital.

The midazolam-hydromorphone combination was used for the first time in an Ohio execution Jan. 16. News reports indicated it took Dennis McGuire 25 minutes to die. He allegedly struggled, gasped, snorted and choked for 10 minutes.

“It was prudently agreed by all parties that more time was needed to conduct a full evidentiary hearing on the constitutionality of using the new hydromorphone/midazolam combination in a Louisiana execution by lethal injection,” said Gary Clements, one of Sepulvado’s attorneys, on Monday. He is director of the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana in New Orleans.

Brady indicated in a court filing Monday that the April 7 trial could last up to two weeks.

Louisiana switched to pentobarbital after its remaining supply of sodium thiopental, an anesthetic agent, expired in 2011. The only U.S. company that manufactured sodium thiopental no longer makes it.

But the state’s supply of pentobarbital expired in September, and it was unable to buy more because of drug companies’ resistance to selling their products for use in executions.

Gerald Bordelon was the last Louisiana inmate to be executed. He waived his appeals and welcomed death for sexually assaulting and strangling his 12-year-old stepdaughter. Bordelon died with the assistance of sodium thiopental.

Sepulvado was supposed to die in November but the date was thrown out as his attorneys pressed for details on the state’s execution protocol.

Louisiana adopted lethal injection as its method of execution in 1991, doing away with the electric chair.