One Texas Official Switched Execution Protocol With no Public Oversight


On July 9, when Texas switched from three drugs to just one to execute its most heinous criminals, Rick Thaler, the No. 3 state corrections official, signed off on the change without fanfare after consulting with prison officials in other states. The Austin American-Statesman says there were no public hearings, no legislative action, and no public vote by the prison system's nine-member governing board, which routinely votes on tweaks to prison policies, such as hazardous-duty pay bumps for individual employees and donations of vegetable and Bibles. Thaler — a former guard and warden with no medical training — alone decided the change on how Texas' ultimate punishment is administered. His signature on the revised 10-page execution policy was all it took to upend almost three decades of precedent using three drugs in executions.

Lethal injection faces increasing scrutiny nationwide with states scrambling to keep their death chambers operating as their supplies of drugs run short, and because of that, critics of the death penalty say, the execution process is much more haphazard than it once was. “It appears to be like the Keystone Kops running around changing the procedures to fit whatever drugs they can get at that time, just so they can keep executions going,” said Richard Dieter of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment. Deborah Denno, a law professor and death penalty expert at New York's Fordham University, said, “The process has always been sloppy, but it's getting much riskier from a constitutional standpoint, in my view. There used to be a pretense that the three-drug method was humane. Now, there is no such pretense. States are switching to whatever drug they can get.”

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