24th January, 2011

Judge Allows Hammond Execution to Go Forward Despite Shady Origin of Lethal Injection Drugs

Hammond attorneys present evidence that sodium thiopental was procured from distributor in the back room of a British Driving School

ATLANTA– Today, Superior Court Judge Michael D. Johnson heard further testimony in Hammond v. Owens, requesting access to public records from the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDOC) pertaining to the records and origins of drugs utilized in the lethal injection procedure in Georgia. The lawsuit was filed by The Southern Center for Human Rights on behalf of Emanuel Hammond who is scheduled to be executed on Tuesday, January 25, 2011.  

At last Friday’s hearing, the Attorney General’s Office produced some of the requested GDOC records minutes before the hearing. In reviewing the provided documents over the weekend, Mr. Hammond’s attorneys discovered that the State of Georgia bought its lethal injection drugs from Dream Pharma Ltd, an unlicensed company operating from a back room within Elgone Driving School in London, England.

In a document presented to Judge Johnson today, the London based organization Reprieve stated that they consulted with the United Kingdom Counsel regarding the legality of Dream Pharma’s operation and expressed serious concerns as to whether the company is in compliance with British law or regulations and contacted the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which regulates such companies.  The MHRA conducted a site visit to Dream Pharma late last week for inspection to investigate whether the back of a driving school is an acceptable location for a pharmaceutical company under United Kingdom law, as there is not suitable storage facilities for drugs and to determine if the owner is a “responsible person” defined by the law to run such an operation. Results of this investigation are still pending.

Based on these findings there are serious questions as to whether or not the chemicals in possession of the GDOC are in fact sodium thiopental, which Georgia protocol specifically requires be used in the execution procedure. The labels on the boxes of drug sold by Dream Pharma bear the name Link Pharmaceuticals. Link was bought by another company in 2006 and the Link name should not appear on drugs sold in 2010.  The mislabeling on the boxes calls into question whether the drugs bought by DOC are real and/or expired. There has been a nationwide shortage of the drug since 2008 and there have been numerous questions about where states are obtaining the first drug in the three drug process.  On Friday, January 21, Hospira, the sole US manufacturer of sodium thiopental issued a press release announcing that they are permanently halting production of the drug.

"Even the limited and heavily redacted records we have been provided access to question the authenticity of the drugs the GDOC intends to use to take Mr. Hammond’s life," said Gerald Weber, Senior Attorney at SCHR who is representing Mr. Hammond.  “Too many unanswered questions remain to allow Mr. Hammond’s scheduled Tuesday execution to be carried out with any kind of confidence.”

SCHR asked the court this morning to insist that the GDOC hand over full information about their procurement of the drugs and issue a stay of execution to allow time for further investigation to be conducted. Judge Johnson ordered the GDOC to turn over the full and unredacted record, finding that the GDOC did fail to comply with the Open Records Act. Judge Johnson declined to halt Tuesday’s scheduled execution.

An Emergency Injunction was filed on January 20, 2011, seeking either an expedited hearing or stay of execution and full access to public records.  A hearing was granted, which addressed the Georgia Department of Corrections’ failure to disclose public records within the statutory timeframe pertaining to the expenditure of public funds, purchases, inventory and expiration dates for drugs utilized in the lethal injection procedure in Georgia. Information contained in these records are not exempt from public disclosure and are critical to addressing whether the State of Georgia is executing convicted persons by lethal injection, in a manner permitted by the constitution and in compliance with accepted medical and ethical standards.

Read the Order here