THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Ga. inmate says execution drug has expired

Roy Willard Blankenship is convicted of a 1978 murder. Roy Willard Blankenship is convicted of a 1978 murder.
By Greg Bluestein
Associated Press / February 15, 2011

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ATLANTA — A federal judge said he would probably rule by today on a lawsuit from a Georgia death-row inmate who claims the state’s stockpile of a key lethal-injection drug has expired and could cause him to die in excruciating pain.

Roy Willard Blankenship’s lawsuit raises questions about Georgia’s supply of sodium thiopental, a sedative that was in short supply even before the drug’s sole US manufacturer decided last month to stop producing it.

“No matter where Georgia obtained its supply of the drug, the drug is almost certainly expired and no longer effective,’’ said the lawsuit, which was filed by the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights.

The shortage has delayed executions in several states, and at least five states — Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, and Tennessee — had to turn to England for their supply of the drug.

State attorneys argued yesterday that Georgia’s stockpile of the drug won’t expire until February 2014 and Blankenship’s lawsuit amounts to a back-door attempt to commute his sentence.

“We have the pinnacle of speculation here,’’ said Tina Piper, an assistant state attorney. “He may suffer if it’s expired. He may suffer if the potency is affected. But there’s no evidence’’

Blankenship was set to be executed last Wednesday for the 1978 murder of an elderly woman, but the state pardons board postponed the execution earlier this month to give authorities more time to conduct DNA testing on the victim’s remains. The lawsuit urged the judge to call off the execution until the state releases more details of the state’s supply of the drug.

Sodium thiopental is a barbiturate used by most states as part of a three-drug cocktail. It puts inmates to sleep before officials administer pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes the muscles, and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. The lawsuit contends that the expired drug may not fully put Blankenship to sleep, which could make his death extremely painful as the other drugs take effect.

The lawsuit, citing state documents, claims the sodium thiopental is stored in vials labeled “Link Pharmaceuticals,’’ a firm purchased five years ago by Archimedes Pharma Limited, another British company.

Link Pharmaceuticals didn’t exist in 2010, and its name has not been on labels since May 2007, the lawsuit said. Sodium thiopental typically has a shelf life of four years, meaning that even the state’s newest supply would expire in May of this year, according to the lawsuit.

Archimedes did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The state’s motion countered that Blankenship offered no evidence that the rest of the company’s labels and marketing changed when it was purchased. Attorneys for the state argued that it is not uncommon for a brand name to continue even after a buyout.

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