Day: August 20, 2015

Ohio Planned to Import Death Penalty Drug Illegally

August 19, 2015

A letter from the FDA warned the state that importing the drug would break the law.

The state of Ohio planned to illegally import sodium thiopental, a drug used for executions, according to a Food and Drug Administration letter obtained byBuzzFeed through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The June letter says that Ohio planned to “obtain bulk and finished dosage forms of sodium thiopental.” Since the drug is not available in the US, wrote Domenic Veneziano, director of the FDA’s import operation, “we assume this product would be purchased from an oversees source.”

Veneziano reminded Ohio Director of Rehabilitation and Correction Gary C. Mohr that“there is no FDA approved application for sodium thiopental, and it is illegal to import an unapproved new drug into the United States.”

According to BuzzFeed:

The prison Ohio carries out executions in registered for a DEA license to import the drug last year for a “law enforcement purpose,” but until now it was unknown if the state actually intended to use the license.

Ohio, like many other death penalty states, shrouds its execution drug suppliers in secrecy. States argue the secrecy protects their suppliers from intimidation and embarrassment, while death row inmates and open government advocates argue it removes an important check on state power.

When Nebraska received a similar letter from the FDA last year, it came out that the state paid an Indian dealer named Chris Harris more than $50,000 for enough sodium thiopental to execute hundreds of prisoners. (Nebraska has since abolished the death penalty completely.)

BuzzFeed followed up with Ohio corrections department to find out if Harris was the planned supplier for Ohio as well.

When approached by BuzzFeed News about Harris in June, Ohio DRC spokesperson JoEllen Smith said the department’s legal division would have to handle the matter. After spending weeks on the request, she only would say that Ohio had not communicated with Harris’s company, Harris Pharma, but did not specifically answer the question of if the state had purchased from him directly or indirectly. Smith did not respond to follow up questions.

Ohio’s last execution took place in January 2014, when the state gave inmateDennis McGuire 10 milligrams of midazolam, a controversial sedative whose use for lethal injections the Supreme Court recently upheld. Ohio plans a new series of executions beginning in 2016.

Many reputable drug manufacturers don’t want to be associated with the death penalty, much less the botched executions that have prevailed of late. The FDA-approved manufacturer of sodium thiopental stopped making the drug in 2011 so that it couldn’t be used for this purpose. When Missouri announced plans to use propofol, the drug found in Michael Jackson’s body at the time of his death, for executions, its German manufacturer expressed displeasure and threatened to get the European Union to stop exporting it the US completely. Many states are now struggling to find the drugs they need for executions.

This fact is compounded in Ohio, whose governor, Republican presidential candidate John Kasich, signed a “secret executions” bill this winter that exempts anyone participating in a lethal injection from public records requests. Under the law, medical and nonmedical staff, companies transporting or preparing supplies or equipment used in executions, and providers of the drugs used in lethal injections are all protected from public records requests and do not need to reveal their identity or duties.

A Second Jailhouse Snitch Claims a Secret Deal With Texas Prosecutor

Nearly six years before before Navarro County prosecutor John Jackson used a jailhouse snitch to help send Cameron Todd Willingham to his death, Jackson made similar use of an inmate informant in a different death penalty trial.
In both cases, the informants later said their testimony resulted from secret deals they made with the prosecutor, which were withheld from defense lawyers.
Jackson had strong evidence in the December 1986 trial of Ernest Baldree for murdering a husband and wife as he stole cash and jewelry. But Jackson also bolstered his case with testimony from Kyle Barnett, a convicted drug user and burglar, who told the jury that Baldree confessed to the crime while they were both inmates in the Navarro County Jail. Baldree was executed in 1997.
On September 10, 1991, 11 months before Willingham went on trial, Barnett signed a sworn affidavit for lawyers working on Baldree’s appeal. Barnett said that Jackson, along with Navarro County District Attorney Patrick Batchelor, pressured him to testify against Baldree in exchange for favorable treatment in his own case.
The scenario that Barnett described echoes allegations later made in the far more famous case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for the arson murder of his three young daughters.
Last March, the Texas State Bar filed a formal accusation of misconduct against Jackson, accusing him of obstruction of justice, making false statements and concealing evidence favorable to Willingham. The bar action accused Jackson of failing to disclose to Willingham’s defense a deal with Johnny Webb, a jailhouse informant who testified that Willingham confessed to the crime while they were both in the Navarro County Jail.
Webb now says his testimony was false—that Willingham never confessed—and that Jackson threatened him with a lengthy jail term if he did not help the prosecution, so the two made a secret deal.
Jackson has denied making any deal with Webb, and says he helped Webb because he was facing death threats because of his testimony.
Source: The Marshall Project, Maurice Possley, Maurice Chammah, August 18, 2015




Texas prosecutor made secret deals in more than one death penalty case, report says

August 18, 2015 (washington post)

A now-retired Texas prosecutor struck secret deals to secure key testimony in more than one death penalty case, according to a new report.

After uncovering evidence last summer that Navarro County prosecutor John Jackson arranged such a deal in one death penalty case, The Marshall Project, a news nonprofit focused on criminal justice issues, reported Tuesday that Jackson did the same in another, earlier case. In both instances, the report says, defense attorneys were not told about the deals and those testifying reported feeling pressured into doing so and guided in what to share.

The new story alleges that Jackson bolstered a 1986 case against Ernest Baldree—who was charged with murdering a husband and wife during a robbery—with testimony from Kyle Barnett, who was an inmate with Baldree.

But Barnett says he never wanted to testify against Baldree: “The prosecutors there had me in a position where it would be real hard on me if I refused,” he said, according to the report. Barnett said Baldree admitted to the murders, but was also remorseful, saying he was high on speed and didn’t know what he was doing—a fact, he says, prosecutors were uninterested in hearing.

“The scenario that Barnett described strongly echoes allegations later made in the far more famous case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for the arson murder of his three young daughters,” Maurice Possley and Maurice Chammah write.

Jackson had, for more than 20 years, denied making a deal in that case, too, but a story by Possley republished by The Washington Post last summer cast doubt on his denial.

[Fresh doubts over a Texas execution]

The former inmate who provided testimony against Willingham in that case, Johnny E. Webb, told Possley that he had been coerced and his testimony that Willingham confessed was a lie. Jackson at the time called the allegation a “complete fabrication.”

Jackson has also alleged that he and Barnett have never had contact. But Barnett says Jackson and his prosecution team told him that they needed his testimony.

“They told me that, if I would testify, they would allow me to the Cenikor Drug Rehabilitation program in Fort Worth for violating my probation,” Barnett explained in an affidavit, according to the new report. “They said if I didn’t testify, I’d be going back to the prison for a long time.”

Read more:

A second jailhouse snitch claims a secret deal with Texas prosecutor