Texas has obtained a new batch of the drugs it uses to execute death row inmates, allowing the state to continue carrying out death sentences once its existing supply expires at the end of the month.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark wouldn't say where the agency obtained the drugs, arguing that information must be kept secret to protect the safety of its new supplier.
In interviews with The Associated Press, department officials also refused to say whether providing anonymity to its new supplier of the sedative pentobarbital was a condition of its purchase.
The decision to keep details secret puts the agency at odds with past rulings by the state attorney general's office, which has said the state's open records law requires the agency to disclose specifics about the drugs it uses to carry out lethal injections.
Texas leads the U.S. in its number of executions.
Major drugmakers, many based in Europe, have stopped selling drugs used in executions to U.S. corrections agencies because they oppose the death penalty.
Earlier this week, a court rescheduled two executions set for this month in Oklahoma — another leading death penalty state — because prison officials were having trouble obtaining the drugs, including pentobarbital, needed for its lethal injections.
Such legal challenges have grown more common as the drug shortages have forced several states to change their execution protocols and buy drugs from alternate suppliers, including compounding pharmacies that are not as heavily regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as more conventional pharmacies.
Texas prison records examined by the AP show the state also has a supply of the painkiller hydromorphone and sedative midazolam, the drugs chosen earlier this year by Ohio to conduct its executions when they lost access to pentobarbital.
But in their first use in January, Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire made gasp-like snoring sounds for several minutes during his 26-minute execution. His family later sued, alleging their use was cruel and inhuman.
Alan Futrell, an attorney for convicted murderer Tommy Sells, whose scheduled April 3 execution would make him the first to be put to death with Texas' new drug supply, said the issue could become material for legal attempts to delay his sentence.
"This might be good stuff," he said. "And the roads are getting very short here."
But Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-capital punishment organization, said it was doubtful that Texas would get to a point where a lack of drugs led officials to fully suspend capital punishment.
"There are a lot of drugs, and Texas can be creative in finding some," he said.
Sixteen convicted killers were executed in Texas last year, more than in any other state. Two inmates already have been executed this year, bringing the total to 510 since capital punishment in Texas resumed in 1982. The total accounts for nearly one-third of all the executions in the U.S. since a 1976 Supreme Court ruling allowed capital punishment to resume.