Law: Some aspects of execution stay secret
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The drugs Pennsylvania can use to execute a man who killed three Pittsburgh police officers should be disclosed to the public, however, other aspects of the execution — including who participates and what companies supply the drugs — can be kept secret, the state Office of Open Records has ruled.
The ruling came in March after state prisoner Richard Poplawski challenged the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ refusal to list its procedures for carrying out capital punishment, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Monday.
Poplawski filed his request Jan. 21, five days after Ohio executed Dennis McGuire, who took 26 minutes to die and gasped repeatedly after officials injected him with a new combination of lethal chemicals. The debate over the drugs used in lethal injections has intensified since convicted rapist and murderer Clayton Lockett died of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after he was lethally injected in an Oklahoma prison last month.
Poplawski, 27, filed the open records appeal after the corrections department refused his request for information on “procedures and protocols for conducting executions, including types of drugs (and) chemicals, current inventory, expiration dates, and suppliers (and) providers,” according to the ruling.
Major Victor Mirarchi, the corrections department’s chief of security, said in an affidavit urging Poplawski’s request be rejected, that execution procedures are kept confidential to safeguard the corrections workers who perform the execution as well as the companies that supply the drugs. Mirarchi’s affidavit said obtaining the drugs has become “increasingly difficult” because suppliers fear “their businesses and personnel will be the subject of reprisals.”
The Open Records Office agreed that safeguarding the source of the drugs, as well as how and who actually administers them, should not be publicized. But the office agreed that Poplawski is entitled to know what drugs are used and even how corrections officials obtain the drugs, as long as the names of the suppliers aren’t disclosed. Corrections spokeswoman Susan Bensinger said some of that information already is public because the General Assembly has mandated that the lethal drugs include “an ultrashort-acting barbiturate.” In Pennsylvania, the barbiturate — or sedative — used is sodium pentobarbital, and the paralytic chemicals are pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride. Pancuronium bromide is a muscle relaxant used in executions to stop breathing; potassium chloride is actually a nutrient, though it can cause cardiac arrest in high doses.
Poplawski has been on death row since 2011, when a jury convicted and sentenced him to death for ambushing officers Paul Sciullo II, Stephen Mayhle and Eric Kelly, who responded to a domestic dispute between Poplawski and his mother in April 2009.
Poplawski is appealing his conviction and death sentences to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. His public defender, Carrie Lynn Allman, didn’t immediately return a call for comment.