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Attorney General Holder: Condemned Should Know Lethal Drugs

Eric Holder said Thursday that prisoners have a right to know the composition and sources of the death penalty drugs to be administered.
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Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that condemned prisoners have a right to know the composition and sources of the drugs to be administered in carrying out the death penalty.

His comments, during an interview with Gwen Ifill on the PBS NewsHour, come as the Justice Department is working to complete a study, ordered by President Obama in May, on the growing controversy over lethal injection.

"For the state to exercise that greatest of all powers — to end a human life — it seems to me, just on a personal level, that transparency would be a good thing and to share the information about what chemicals are being used, what drugs are being used," he said.

The nation's 32 death penalty states are struggling to find lethal drugs after suppliers of the drugs traditionally employed in lethal injections said they wanted no part of capital punishment.

Attempts to use new combinations and dosages have resulted in botched executions in Ohio, Oklahoma, and Arizona.

State and federal courts have divided on whether those subject to the death penalty are entitled to know which drugs a state intends to use and where they came from.

Defense lawyers have argued that the purity and stability of the drugs can vary, depending on the quality of compounding pharmacies that formulate them and the conditions under which they are stored.

But some states have refused to provide that information, saying that the drug providers could be subjected to protest, which might lead them to cut off their supplies.

"There might not be a legal requirement for transparency and just talking about or describing the drugs that are used. But we sometimes have to go beyond that which is legally required to do something that is right," Holder said in the interview.


- Pete Williams