JACKSON — Attorney General Jim Hood has asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to keep secret the identity of the state’s execution drug supplier while he appeals a state judge’s order that the name be released.
Hinds County Chancery Judge Denise Owens ruled last month that the state’s public records law requires officials to release the information, sought by death-penalty opponents at the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center.
“Without protection for the identity of drug supplier, the state will be unable to obtain new supplies of the drugs necessary to carry out lethal injection executions when ordered to do so by this court,” Hood’s office wrote in documents filed Thursday.
Hood said making public the company’s name now would make the Mississippi Department of Corrections’ appeal “futile and meaningless.” The Supreme Court has not ruled on the motion.
At issue is the identity of the pharmacy providing pentobarbital, a barbiturate used to render prisoners unconscious before they are injected with a paralytic agent and a heart-stopping drug.
In 2012, the state bought pentobarbital from a compounding pharmacy in Grenada, called Brister Brothers, which mixed the drug. After the MacArthur Center discovered the name following an earlier records request, state lawyers said the pharmacy refused to make further sales and that the drugmaker cut off its supply to Brister Brothers.
State lawyers say it’s important to preserve the ability to buy the drug. Nationwide, concerns have been raised about problem-filled executions because of novel drug combinations as older sets of drugs become unavailable. Mississippi’s supply of pentobarbital is supposed to expire May 20, unless a new supplier is found.
After ruling for the plaintiffs, Owens on April 1 denied the state’s motion to freeze her order during the appeal.
“It seems obvious that the attorney general’s office fears that disclosing the truth about these drugs may show a serious possibility of the kind of torture we’ve seen in the recent botched executions in other states,” MacArthur Center lawyer Jim Craig wrote in an email Friday. “As Mr. Hood must know, that disclosure would cause the courts to stop any Mississippi executions during this election year.”
Craig has yet to formally respond to Hood’s Supreme Court filing.
On April 2, Owens ordered the state to pay $13,423.12 in attorney’s fees and other expenses, finding that access had been unreasonably denied.