Convicted serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells has been executed in Texas despite his claims the drug that would be used to kill him could deliver an unconstitutionally painful death.
Sells was sent to prison in 1999. ABC news reported he claimed responsibility for dozens of murders across the country. He was executed in Texas on April 3.
The 49-year-old was convicted of killing 13-year-old Katy Harris as she slept at her Del Rio, Texas, home. Although her killing landed Sells on death row, he has been linked to at least 17 other killings and claimed he has killed as dozens more.
Defense attorneys representing Sells petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court last Thursday to block his execution because Texas prison officials refused to disclose details about the lethal drugs to be used.
They asked the high court to overturn a decision the previous day by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to allow the execution to move forward as scheduled, despite the legal issues. That plea was rejected and the execution went ahead as scheduled.
Previously a district court ruled that the Texas prison system was required to disclose information about its lethal-injection drugs supplier and how the drugs used in executions are tested. The court said the state should provide information about the drugs used for another condemned killer, Hernandez Llanas, who is slated for execution on April 9.
The federal appeals court did not overturn the Houston judge’s order halting Llanas’ execution date.
Although the bid to stay the execution of Sells was unsuccessful, the legal battle raises some legitimate concerns about drugs used in executions. The filing with the Supreme Court cited “the increasing scarcity of execution drugs – and consequent concerns about the quality and states’ desperate efforts to keep the source of drugs secret,” It said these had become a feature of botched executions and Eighth Amendment concerns.
The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.
Texas officials argued during the course of the legal battle that they are not required to disclose details about the drug suppliers or other information. They said to do would breach security in the supply chain and could subject suppliers to harassment and threats.
To bolster their contention that the issue about the purity of lethal drugs is “the topic of significant national debate,” the convicts’ lawyers cited a recent segment from The Colbert Report, a Comedy Central Show, about the growing attempts by states to keep execution details secret.
A recent report from the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) revealed 10 percent fewer prisoners were executed in the United States in 2013 than the previous year.
The report cited a chronic shortage of drugs used in lethal injections, high court costs and a shift in public opinion on the trend as reasons why the death penalty is being used less and less.