At 6:32 p.m. CT, Manuel Vasquez, a Mexican Mafia hitman was put to death in Texas by way of lethal injection. Vasquez was convicted of killing one Juanita Ybarra in 1998 because she didn’t pay his gang’s drug dealing tax. The full report will be posted on March 12 2015 through the Texas executions.org website. Normally an execution in Texas, a state that executes more convicted criminals than any other state in America, would not be making national news. What makes this story more newsworthy is that Texas now only has enough drugs for one more lethal injection.
Pentobarbital is a barbiturate used for the purpose of carrying out lethal injections throughout the country. Other states have recently revoked the death penalty all together, or put them on hold due to the same problem Texas is facing now. While lethal injections used to be delivered via a combination of three drugs used in succession, the procedure was switched to using only pentobarbital when the combination of three drugs became increasingly harder to obtain. This is because over the past several years European companies who once supplied the drugs have taken a stand against using their pharmaceuticals for the purpose of lethal injections.
Jason Clark, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice says their goal is to carry out the planned executions, and have faced the problem of drug shortages in the past and was able to find what they needed. Clark states, “We refuse to go into the details about how or where we purchased the drugs, or anything beyond that.” This is because there is currently a lawsuit against the Department of Criminal Justice to reveal the name of the pharmacy currently supplying their lethal injection drugs.
If one were to go simply off Clark’s statement about where they receive the drugs, it seems to some that maybe they’ve gone to suppliers of the illegal variety. In the past various government agencies have been linked to having ties with the drug cartels, which gives one much to think about in terms of why Clark feels so confident that Texas will find the drugs needed to perform their executions; though many other states cannot.
Clark does go on to say, however, “We’re looking into all our options, be it the continued use of pentobarbital or using alternate drugs in the lethal injection process,”
As documented, other states have been experiencing similar problems in finding alternative drugs to use in lethal injections. When Oklahoma chose to use the drug midazolam because of the shortage of preferred chemicals, it turned the execution of Clayton Lockett into something out of a Rob Zombie horror film. After being injected with midazolam, Lockett kicked, squirmed and made faces showing extreme pain while restrained for 43 excruciating minutes before finally passing into that dark tunnel called death.
Only last week Georgia made the decision to postpone all upcoming executions because it has to investigate vials that were to be used for lethal injections that contained drugs that were unusually “cloudy”. Scenes like this have appeared in movies such as Law Abiding Citizen over the years, and are a large argument protesters of the death penalty use; when an execution goes wrong what is ever done about it?
Recently, an execution to be carried out in Texas was halted by the Supreme Court to debate if they should hear the case of the inmate set to be executed. He argues that it is unconstitutional to execute him since he has spent over 30 years on death row awaiting the sentence to be carried out.
In states that are experiencing the drug shortages, other execution options have been approved. On Tuesday night Utah’s legislature approved a proposal to have executions be carried out by firing squad if the drugs needed for execution by lethal injection can not be obtained. Similar proposals have been introduced in Arkansas; while one firing squad proposal failed outright in Wyoming. Executions have been carried out since the dawn of time, and with the recent shortage in drugs for lethal injections one wonders how long will executions continue to go on? Critics say that if more citizens were subjected to watching a more violent execution such as a hanging, then enough people would stand against it and have executions be made a barbaric system of the past.
By Benjamin Johnson
Photo by Ken Piorkowski – Flickr License