Faith leaders decry plan to shield execution drug suppliers


RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Religious leaders urged Virginia lawmakers on Monday to put an end to capital punishment and reject Gov. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s proposal to shield the identities of pharmacies that supply lethal drugs for executions.

About a dozen members of an interfaith coalition and a former death row inmate denounced McAuliffe’s proposal, which replaces a bill that sought to force condemned inmates to the electric chair if execution drugs were not available. Faith leaders said shielding suppliers from public scrutiny would increase the risk of botched executions.

“When you have to result to secrecy or brutality to keep the machinery of death going, it’s a sure sign that what we’re doing is not right,” said Bishop Carroll Baltimore, former president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention.

Baltimore was joined by Harold Wilson, who was released from prison in 2005 after a jury acquitted him of a triple homicide.

Several states have adopted secrecy laws in an effort to make the drugs easier to obtain by protecting suppliers from critics.

Inmates in Georgia and Texas who have challenged their state’s laws have so far been unsuccessful. In Arkansas, a circuit court judge recently struck down the portion of the law that blocks state officials from revealing where the state gets its execution drugs, and the case is heading to the state Supreme Court. In Missouri, a judge ruled last month that the state must disclose the source of its execution drugs after several media organizations, including The Associated Press, challenged the policy.

Virginia’s inability to obtain lethal injection drugs prompted Del. Jackson Miller to propose allowing prison officials to use the electric chair if drugs aren’t available. But McAuliffe stripped the electric chair provision from the bill, calling it “reprehensible,” and replaced it with one that allows the state to contract with confidential pharmacies for lethal injection drugs.

McAuliffe, a Roman Catholic, says he personally opposes capital punishment but believes he must uphold state law. However, he says executions will end in Virginia if his proposal isn’t passed.

“Rather than duck the issue or offer an empty solution, the governor made a proposal that will solve this problem,” Brian Coy, the governor’s spokesman, said Monday.

Megan McCracken, a death penalty expert at the University of California at Berkeley, said McAuliffe’s proposed amendment is rooted in the “false premise” that a lack of confidentiality is the reason states are struggling to obtain lethal injection drugs.

“The reality of what we see … is that both pharmaceutical companies and compounding pharmacies are declining to provide execution drugs because they don’t want their products used in executions, not because of a lack of secrecy,” McCracken said.

It’s unclear whether there will be enough support for McAuliffe’s amendment in the Republican-controlled General Assembly when it returns Wednesday. Miller, has said while he has concerns about the proposal, he will encourage his colleagues to support it.

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Associated Press reporters Kate Brumback in Atlanta and Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio contributed to this report.

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Follow Alanna Durkin Richer on Twitter at twitter.com/aedurkinricher. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/alanna-durkin-richer

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