Evidence that Georgia’s first pentobarbital execution was botched is a warning for other states

June 24, 2011

Reports suggest that the first execution carried out in Georgia using pentobarbital may have been botched, with the prisoner experiencing severe pain as a result of a failure to properly anaesthetise him.

According to the Associated Press, Roy Willard Blankenship grimaced during the process, and kept his eyes open throughout. These indications that he may have remained conscious – and therefore would have suffered severe pain as the process continued – have recently been seen in botched executions using other anaesthetics which have not been properly assessed or tested.

However, this report now raises serious questions about the efficacy of the barbiturate pentobarbital (also known as Nembutal), which has recently been adopted by a large number of states and has so far been used in 17 executions.

The news should raise concerns around the execution process in the eight US states that have already carried out executions using pentobarbital, and the many others that are planning to do so.

Recent domestic shortages of the anaesthetic sodium thiopental have forced US death rows to look elsewhere for execution drugs. At first many states turned to imported sodium thiopental from the UK and India, but concerns over its effectiveness mean many have now switched to pentobarbital. However, this latest development suggests that using this drug could also leave prisoners at risk of unnecessary pain and suffering during executions – potentially breaching the US Constitutional ban on ‘cruel and unusual punishment’.