HOUSTON — A federal appeals court on Wednesday threw out a ruling requiring the Texas prison system to disclose more information about where it gets lethal-injection drugs, reversing a judge who had halted an upcoming execution.
Only hours before the appellate decision, a lower-court judge issued a temporary injunction halting the execution of Tommy Lynn Sells, a convicted serial killer who was set to die Thursday.
The case originally included Ramiro Hernandez-Llanas, another inmate scheduled to be put to death next week, but the appellate ruling affected only Sells. The appeals court said it would take up Hernandez-Llanas’ case at a later date.
Texas officials have insisted the identity of the drug supplier must be kept secret to protect the company from threats of violence, and that the stock of the sedative pentobarbital falls within the acceptable ranges of potency.
Defense attorneys say they must have the name of the supplier so they can verify the quality of the drug and spare condemned inmates from unconstitutional pain and suffering.
In the lower-court ruling, U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore ordered the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to provide defense attorneys with details about the supplier and how the drug was tested.
Lawyers for the state appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, saying the arguments from the inmates’ attorneys “are nothing more than a calculated attempt to postpone their executions.”
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected similar arguments about execution secrecy in a Missouri case, and the condemned prisoner was put to death.
The 5th Circuit reversed Gilmore’s ruling before attorneys for the inmates had filed a brief opposing the state’s appeal. The court said if Texas was using a drug never used before for executions or a completely new drug whose efficiency or science was unknown “the case might be different.”
But the panel said the prisoners’ lawyers were speculating the new pentobarbital “may be different and may cause a risk of severe pain.”
“Speculation is not enough,” they said.
Maurie Levin, an attorney for the inmates, said Sells’ case would be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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