Reprieve pursued a judicial review in the UK on behalf of Edmund Zagorski, who was set to be executed on 11 January 2011 with drugs imported from Britain.
In the summer of 2010, the US ran short of sodium thiopental, a drug which was, at that time, called for in all US state execution protocols. As a result, Departments of Corrections (DOCs) sought supplies of the drug from abroad – notably from the UK.
Reprieve was alerted to the use of unapproved British drugs in executions in October 2010, ahead of Jeffrey Landrigan’s scheduled execution in Arizona.
Reprieve and Leigh Day & Co. contacted the Government immediately asking for emergency measures to be taken to ensure that Britain was acting in line with its own policy on the death penalty, and that medicines made in Europe (where capital punishment is outlawed) were not allowed to be exported to the USA for use in executions. In late October 2010, they launched a Judicial Review of the Government’s decision not to take action on the matter.
Reprieve and Leigh Day & Co. successfully established over the course of the Judicial Review that there was no legitimate trade between the UK and the USA of sodium thiopental for medical purposes, and that any exports of this medicine were intended for and would be used in capital punishment procedures. As a result, in late October 2010, Vince Cable, the UK Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, reversed his position and announced that he would impose an export control on the medicine.
The review was suspended and on 29 November 2010 a control on the export of sodium thiopental to the US was put in place. Four months later, further export measures were put in place on three more execution drugs – pancuronium bromide, potassium chloride and sodium pentobarbital.
The UK controls were later followed by wider EU controls in line with EU principles on capital punishment. An amendment to EC Regulation 1236/2005 (known colloquially as ‘the Torture Reg’) to include execution drugs on the annex of goods that require an export authorisation was made in December 2011. See [Preventing the export of drugs for use in executions] for more information on the export controls.
Background on Ed Zagorski
Edmund George “Ed” Zagorski grew up in impoverished circumstances in Tecumseh, Michigan. He suffered from a learning disability and a bad stutter as a child, both of which he fought to overcome. He never finished high school, but trained to become a boat captain.
Mr Zagorski was just 28 when he went to jail in 1983 for the killing of two drug peddlers – John Dale Dotson and Jimmy Porter – in a marijuana deal gone bad. By the time he was set to die, on 11 January 2011, he had been awaiting the death penalty for half of his life. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that forcing a prisoner to wait more than ten years for his death is, standing alone, degrading and inhuman punishment. Mr Zagorski was convicted and sentenced to death based in part upon statements coerced out of him. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) have described his treatment in the Robertson County jail as “torture”.
Arrested in May 1983, Mr Zagorski invoked his rights to remain silent and to counsel. The State of Tennessee then placed Mr Zagorski in a windowless, unventilated 8′ x 8′ steel box. After fifty-two days of near total isolation and sensory deprivation – a period punctuated by an oppressive heat wave – Mr Zagorski was physiologically compromised and psychologically disturbed. Thirty pounds lighter and despondent, he offered a confession, putting an end to the interminable abuse, in return for the ability to dictate the terms of his execution. As a result of this request to die, the jurors heard nothing in mitigation of his sentence.
To this day, Ed Zagorski awaits execution in Tennessee.