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Single execution drug urged in US

A constitutional rights group in the US has urged replacing the use of drug combinations in executions with a single drug that it said would minimise pain and suffering.

The call by the Constitution Project comes after a botched lethal injection in the state of Oklahoma.

In a report entitled Irreversible Error, the group said states should use the most scientifically reliable method in death-penalty cases.

That means using only drugs approved by federal regulators for use in humans, the Constitution Project said, also calling for the public to have an opportunity to comment before states adopt lethal injection procedures.

States relying on lethal injection as a means of execution should use a deadly dose of a single anaesthetic or barbiturate approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, rather than a complex mixture of drugs, the dosage and administration of which can easily be miscalculated, the group said.

Last week's execution of Clayton Lockett was the first time Oklahoma had used a particular sedative as the first element in a drug combination. Lockett writhed on the stretcher, gritted his teeth and moaned before being pronounced dead of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after the execution began.

Sarah Turberville, senior counsel at the Constitution Project, said the cause of the problems in Oklahoma "isn't known at this point, but regardless, a one-drug protocol would be a substantial improvement over the two or three-drug" mixture.

The Constitution Project is a Washington-based group that promotes bipartisan consensus on the death penalty, wrongful executions and the importance of independent courts.

Regarding the Oklahoma case, a report issued last week by the state's Department of Corrections director Robert Patton, said Lockett had self-inflicted wounds on his arm, and the execution team was unable to find suitable veins in his arms, legs and neck. An IV was inserted into Lockett's groin area and the execution began.

Many domestic and foreign drugmakers have objected to using their products in executions, leading to acute drug shortages. States sometimes procure substandard drugs and federal drug enforcement agents have seized some states' supplies. As a result, some states have turned to compounding chemists, which often are unregulated.

State laws governing executions vary based on the availability of drugs that could be used. States have enacted laws to shield execution protocols from freedom of information requests, prohibiting the public dissemination of that information on the lethal injection process. The secrecy protects the identities of the suppliers.

Lethal injection is used for capital punishment by the federal government and all 32 states where the death penalty has not been abolished. In 2007, the US Supreme Court found that execution by a three-drug mixture does not violate the Constitution.

Mark Earley, a former Republican attorney general of Virginia and a participant in compiling the report, said: "Without substantial revisions - not only to lethal injection, but across the board - the administration of capital punishment in America is unjust, disproportionate and very likely unconstitutional."

During Mr Earley's tenure, Virginia carried out 36 executions. The Constitution Project study encompassed aspects of capital punishment from executions to clemency.

Following the Lockett case, lawyers for a Texas death row inmate, Robert Campbell, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking to delay his execution. Yesterday, Campbell's lawyers said Texas prison officials must reveal the source of one of the drugs to be used in Campbell's execution scheduled for May 13. Otherwise, they said, his punishment could be "as horrific as" Oklahoma's execution of Lockett.

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