NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Since 2018, only once has the pharmacy that provides execution drugs to the Tennessee Dept. of Correction tested for endotoxins, which is bacteria, in its lethal injection process.
“It made me nauseous to read this report,” Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty Executive Director Stacy Rector said.
“One of the most disturbing pieces for me was the revelation that before Billy Ray Irick was executed here in 2018, the drugs had not been tested not only for endotoxins – which continues to be an issue – but for potency,” Rector said.
In Irick’s case, the state did test for both potency and the aforementioned endotoxins on May 11, 2018. But, the report states Midazolam, part of the drug compound used for the procedure, has a shelf-life of 45 days, meaning protocol required a new dose for his execution nearly 90 days later. That new compound was not tested for endotoxins nor potency again prior to Irick’s death.
So, according to the report, there was no way of knowing if it was potent enough to be a death sentence.
Mere months later, Edmund Zagorski died by electric chair. But before he chose that method, the state prepared a lethal injection dose and kept it viable in case Zagorski changed his mind at the last minute.
When that lethal injection compound was tested after his execution on November 7, 2018, it failed a potency test.
The pharmacy isn’t to blame. It’s contracted by the TDOC out of Texas to provide and test the lethal injection compound.
But, according to the report, it never even received an updated protocol from the TDOC back in 2018.
“To read that there’s a finding that the pharmacist never even saw the protocol is really confusing and extremely troubling,” federal public defender Kelley Henry said.
Henry also represented Zagorski prior to his death.
Another issue many advocacy groups have brought up is the relative lack of transparency surrounding executions in our state.
Many of the mistakes the TDOC made haven’t been public information because of a small clause in the Tennessee code that says, “Those parts of the record identifying an individual or entity as a person or entity who or that has been or may in the future be directly involved in the process of executing a sentence of death shall be treated as confidential and shall not be open to public inspection.”
“Unfortunately, as long as that is the case, there will not be the proper checks and balances,” Rector said. “There will not be the accountability to ensure that everyone is following the rules and doing what they’re supposed to do.”
Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tennessee) released the report alongside several changes he’s making after the report’s findings. Those recommendations include revising the lethal injection protocol, making changes within TDOC leadership and hiring a permanent TDOC commissioner.