Texas caught illegally dispensing lethal injection drugs under the name of a hospital that closed 30 years ago

March 31, 2011

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has today been reported to the US Attorney General Eric Holder for illegally purchasing and dispensing lethal injection drugs under the name of a hospital that closed in 1983.

In a letter to Holder and to the Texas Department of Safety, lawyers for death row prisoner Cleve Foster describe how the state’s prison agency has been purchasing controlled substances – including drugs used for lethal injections – under a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) registration certificate assigned to Huntsville Unit Hospital, which has not existed for 30 years. “[A]s a result, we believe that TDCJ is unlawfully in possession of and unlawfully dispensing controlled substances,” the lawyers write.

Under US drug laws, DEA registration numbers must be renewed every three years. Yet Foster’s legal team, Maurie Levin and Sandra Babcock, have discovered that the TDCJ “has failed to advise the DEA for the past twenty-eight years of the fact that the Huntsville Unit Hospital no longer exists,” or to admit that what actually exists at that location is a prison unit with a warden “purchasing and dispensing controlled substances”.

The lawyers further report that Texas’s drugs are not kept at a pharmacy or by a DEA-registered handler: “At no point is an appropriately licensed or authorized practitioner involved in the dispensing process, and at no point is a prescription written to transfer the controlled substances to a member of the execution team”. 

Levin and Babcock have asked Attorney General Holder to direct the DEA to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation, noting “the potential for abuse is rampant.” If violations are found, they request the immediate revocation of agency registration and seizure of the ill-obtained drugs. Any such action would disrupt Texas’s busy execution schedule; seven executions are slated for August, with Cleve Foster due to die on April 5.

Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith said: 

“Every day, the US capital punishment system looks more ridiculous. If the Texas Department of Criminal Justice can’t even manage to obey the law, why on earth should they be granted the extraordinary power to kill prisoners?”

For more information please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office katherine.oshea@reprieve.org.uk / 020 7427 1099 / 07931592674.

Notes for Editors:

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 27 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA. Reprieve has represented, and continues to represent, a large number of prisoners who have been rendered and abused around the world, and is conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

Reprieve is a charitable company limited by guarantee; Registered Charity No. 1114900 Registered Company No. 5777831 (England) Registered Office 2-6 Cannon Street London EC4M 6YH; Chair: Lord Ken Macdonald QC; Patrons: Alan Bennett, Julie Christie, Martha Lane Fox, Gordon Roddick, Jon Snow, Marina Warner, Vivienne Westwood