Killer seeks to avoid secret execution drug

09:45, May 13 2014
 Alexandra Rendon
RAPED AND MURDERED: Bank teller Alexandra Rendon.

Texas plans to execute a convicted murderer whose hopes are pinned on two appeals, including one that challenges the state's planned use of a secretly made drug like those used in Oklahoma's botched execution two weeks ago. 

Robert James Campbell, 41, would be the first US inmate put to death since the botched execution of Clayton Lockett, whose vein collapsed during his lethal injection, prompting Oklahoma prison officials to halt the execution. He later died of an apparent heart attack. 

Like Oklahoma, Texas won't say where it obtains the drugs it uses in executions, saying it needs to protect the identity of the producer to protect it from possible threats by death penalty opponents. Unlike Oklahoma, which used a three-drug combination in Lockett's execution, Texas uses a single dose of the sedative pentobarbital to kill inmates. 

Robert James Campbell
DEATH ROW INMATE: Robert James Campbell.

Oklahoma has agreed to a six-month stay of execution for another inmate while the state conducts an investigation of the death of Lockett, who began writhing, clenching his teeth and straining to lift his head after he was injected with lethal drugs last month. The blinds were eventually lowered to prevent viewing of the death chamber. It could take at least two months for a complete autopsy report to be received, Oklahoma officials said Monday. 

Campbell's attorneys - citing the Oklahoma case that President Barack Obama called "inhumane" - renewed arguments raised earlier in Texas that secrecy over the source of the pentobarbital drug to be used could mean that Campbell is subjected to unconstitutional inhumane pain and suffering. 

"This is a crucial moment when Texas must recognise that death row prisoners can no longer presume safety unless full disclosure is compelled so that the courts can fully review the lethal injection drugs to be used and ensure that they are safe and legal," said Maurie Levin, one of Campbell's attorneys. 


The state's attorneys, though, say Campbell's claims are speculative and fall "far short" of demonstrating a significant risk of severe pain. 

"The Constitution does not require the elimination of all risk of pain," argued Ellen Stewart-Klein, an assistant Texas attorney general. 

She said the Texas procedures are "vastly different from the situation in Oklahoma in which an admittedly new protocol was used".

Campbell's execution would be the eighth this year for Texas, which kills more inmates than any other state, and the fourth in recent weeks to use the compounded pentobarbital. 

Texas invoked confidentiality in late March when it obtained a new supply of pentobarbital from a compounding pharmacy to replace a stock that had reached its expiration date. 

Campbell's appeals moved Monday to the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals after they were rejected by state courts and lower federal courts. 

In the appeal that challenges the secrecy surrounding the drug, US District Judge Keith Ellison said he couldn't overturn 5th Circuit decisions in similar cases, but he urged the higher court to reconsider its rulings, saying they seemed "to shield crucial elements of the execution process from open inquiry". 

Another appeal before the 5th Circuit holds that Campbell isn't mentally competent enough to execute because he has a 69 IQ, and courts have generally set a 70 IQ as the minimum threshold. 

Campbell was convicted of capital murder for the January 1991 slaying of a 20-year-old Houston bank teller, Alexandra Rendon. She was abducted while putting gas into her car, robbed, raped and shot. 

"This was not a shoot and rob and run away," Rendon's cousin, Israel Santana, said. "The agony she had to go through. ... It works me up." 

Rendon, who had been making wedding plans, was buried wearing her recently purchased wedding dress. 

Even before the Oklahoma problems, questions about execution procedures had drawn renewed attention from defense attorneys and death penalty opponents in recent months. States have scrambled to find new sources of execution drugs after several drugmakers, including many based in Europe, refused to sell their products for use in executions.