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Tennessee execution: 2 people knew drugs were untested, new records show

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — At least two people linked to an execution in Tennessee that was abruptly halted last month knew the night before that the deadly injectable drugs the state planned to use had not undergone some required tests, as newly released records show.

Citing an “oversight,” Gov. Bill Lee called off the April 21 execution of 72-year-old Oscar Smith just under an hour before the scheduled lethal injection for Smith’s conviction in the 1989 murder of his estranged wife and their two teenage sons . The governor’s office later announced that the drugs had not been tested for endotoxins.

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The Republican governor’s administration declined to release much information, saying the issue was “technical.” Instead, Lee recently appointed a former US attorney to lead an independent investigation and also paused four other executions scheduled for this year.

On April 21, there was no indication the lethal injection would come until about an hour before the governor’s office issued a press release canceling it. Shortly before learning of his pardon, Smith had received Communion from his spiritual adviser to be admitted into the execution chamber. He had eaten one last meal and media witnesses and family members were gathered and waiting. The US Supreme Court also rejected Smith’s offer of residency at the last hour.

FILE - Mounted officers guard the entrance to designated protester areas near the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution as people wait to enter ahead of the scheduled execution of inmate Oscar Smith Thursday, April 21, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, file)

FILE – Mounted officers guard the entrance to designated protester areas near the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution as people wait to enter ahead of the scheduled execution of inmate Oscar Smith Thursday, April 21, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, file)

On Friday, the Department of Correction released 20 pages of heavily redacted emails and text messages to The Associated Press through a public records request.

In it, experts say that so-called endotoxins, which usually come from bacteria, were not tested. Such tests are considered vital as they could indicate problems in the manufacture of the drugs. However, according to Frank Romanelli, a professor of pharmacy at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy, the endotoxins themselves would likely not cause a problem in an execution because endotoxins are not usually immediately fatal.

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The Justice Department declined to respond to questions if the state knew the execution drugs had not been properly tested.

“As you know, the governor has announced an independent review of these matters, which we fully support. We cannot offer any further information until the review is complete,” a spokeswoman, Dorinda Carter, said in a statement.

FILE - This undated photo provided by the Tennessee Department of Justice shows inmate Oscar Smith. (Tennessee Department of Correction via AP, file)

FILE – This undated photo provided by the Tennessee Department of Justice shows inmate Oscar Smith. (Tennessee Department of Correction via AP, file)
(Tennessee Department of Correction via AP, file)

Tennessee execution protocols require that all compound drugs be independently tested for potency, sterility, and endotoxins. From the records provided, it was not known whether the other tests had been performed.

At last week’s press conference announcing the independent investigation, Lee said the testing issue was noticed shortly before the scheduled execution. The records provided to AP imply some people knew almost a day beforehand.

Almost all names, email addresses, phone numbers and all other identifiable information has been removed from the records. Even the name of the governor’s communications team, which is regularly circulated to the media and the public, has been removed. According to the correctional facility’s general counsel, the state has blacked out the names of those who were directly involved or may be involved in the execution process.

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Tennessee uses a series of three drugs to kill inmates: midazolam, a tranquilizer, to render the inmate unconscious; vecuronium bromide to paralyze the occupant; and potassium chloride to stop the heart.

The records included a text exchange between two unidentified people, whose names had been redacted from the records, the night before Smith’s scheduled execution, which began around 8 p.m., with one person asking for midazolam and potassium chloride lab results.

The Department of Correction redacted the response, but when the same person asked for the results of the endotoxin test, another person’s response stated that it was “not necessary” based on the amount they make.

“Sorry, I didn’t have it tested,” the text reads.

“It was carried out on previous ones,” the stock exchange says.

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Later in the morning, a separate text message asks if it would be possible to test for endotoxins on the day of the execution.

“Honestly doubt it,” reads the reply.

dr Franklin Community Church's Kevin Riggs prays with a group of death penalty protesters on the grounds of the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution ahead of the scheduled execution of inmate Oscar Smith Thursday, April 21, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey )

dr Franklin Community Church’s Kevin Riggs prays with a group of death penalty protesters on the grounds of the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution ahead of the scheduled execution of inmate Oscar Smith Thursday, April 21, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey )
(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Tennessee and many other states have in recent years enacted exceptions to laws disclosing records that conceal the identities of drug suppliers and other information about executions.

“The failure to ensure that the lethal injection chemicals were manufactured in accordance with … standards is troubling,” Smith’s attorney, Kelley Henry, said in an emailed statement. “Connected high-risk sterile injections, such as those used in the Tennessee lethal injection protocol, are extremely risky.”

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Smith was sentenced to death for the fatal stabbing and shooting of estranged wife Judith Smith and their sons Jason and Chad Burnett at their Nashville home on October 1, 1989. Tennessee had scheduled five executions this year, including Smith’s. It had attempted to resume its rapid pre-pandemic pace of killing inmates.

Smith has claimed he is innocent. He previously declined to choose between the electric chair and lethal injection, the two methods of execution in Tennessee, so lethal injection became the standard method. A first execution date for Smith in June 2020 was postponed due to the pandemic.

https://www.foxnews.com/us/tennessee-execution-2-people-knew-drugs-hadnt-tested-new-records Tennessee execution: 2 people knew drugs were untested, new records show

Alley Einstein

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