Questions Arise Over Drug Used in Virginia Executions by Lethal Injection

Capital punishment is legal in Virginia, where the first execution in the future U.S. took place in 1608. It was the first of a total of 1,388 executions. Today, the Commonwealth ranks fourth in the nation for executions per capita, an “outlier,” according to the Richmond Times Dispatch, which generally supports capital punishment. The newspaper commented in an editorial “The last thing the state needs is to have its name attached in nationwide headlines to the phrase ‘botched execution.’”  The editorial was referring to the excessively long-drawn-out, 30-minute January execution of Ricky Gray and the questions that arose over that execution’s deviations from standard protocol.

Officials with the Virginia Department of Corrections attributed the half-hour delay to the difficulty of finding a vein in Gray’s arm for the needle that would deliver the lethal-injection drugs, and stated, “The execution of Ricky Javon Gray was carried out in accordance with established Commonwealth of Virginia protocol.”  Gray’s lawyers, however, questioned that explanation. Rob Lee of the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center said, “We think an independent inquiry is warranted.” In a statement, the center asserted, “After witnessing Ricky Gray’s execution and carefully reviewing the facts, there is grave concern that the execution of Mr. Gray caused pain and suffering inconsistent with his constitutional rights.”
The Gray execution also added to the furor over the controversial drug Virginia used for sedation before Gray’s lethal injection. The drug, midazolam, has been used in several high-profile executions, including that of Joseph Wood in Arizona, which took two hours plus a 15 times greater dose of the drug than should have been required before administering the drugs that stop breath and heart function. Critics of midazolam claim that its use amounts to cruel and unusual punishment because there are many questions about its effectiveness. Gray’s execution was the first under Virginia’s new drug secrecy law that prevents the name of the compounding pharmacy that provided the drug to be revealed.
Craig Follis has extensive experience in litigation, negotiating and settling suits, and providing legal opinions on liability and insurance coverage. You can reach him at (888) 703-0109 or via email at cfollis@lawyersva.com.

 

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