BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana cannot execute a DeSoto Parish man next week because the state has provided too little information about the drug that will be used in the lethal injection and the execution methods, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
U.S. District Judge James Brady canceled the Feb. 13 execution date for Christopher Sepulvado, who was convicted of the beating and scalding death of his 6-year-old stepson two decades ago.
Brady said without more details about the protocol the Louisiana State Penitentiary plans to use in preparing for and carrying out the injection, lawyers for Sepulvado cannot protect his right against cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The state will have the opportunity to execute Sepulvado, Brady said, adding, “But it must do so in a constitutional manner.”
Until this week, the Department of Corrections hadn’t confirmed it switched from a three-chemical lethal injection process to a one-drug execution method using pentobarbital.
The department gave the name of the drug it plans to use in a hearing in Brady’s court, but offered no further details to Sepulvado’s lawyers about how and when it was purchased, what training was provided to prison staff, who will carry out the execution and what type of medical supervision if any is involved.
No new execution date was immediately set.
Wade Shows, an attorney for the Department of Corrections, said the protocol for an execution is outlined in a document that tops a dozen pages, which he didn’t provide in court.
He said Sepulvado’s lawyers didn’t ask for the execution details through the appropriate court filings.
Brady disagreed, and he said “fundamental fairness” requires that the state let Sepulvado review the details of the plans for executing him.
“There is no way that he could adequately, meaningfully bring an Eighth Amendment challenge if he does not know how the protocol operates,” Brady said.
Shows said the corrections department would check with the DeSoto Parish district attorney’s office to decide if an appeal of Brady’s ruling would be filed. The district attorney didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Gary Clements, director of the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana and attorney for Sepulvado, applauded the decision.
“For the moment, I am relieved and pleased and not really surprised, because I think the case was pretty clear cut,” he said.
Sepulvado was convicted of first-degree murder for the 1992 killing of Wesley Mercer at his Mansfield home.
Court records say Sepulvado repeatedly hit the boy on the head with a screwdriver handle and then immersed him in a bathtub filled with scalding water that burned 60 percent of his body. The boy had come home from school with soiled pants.
For Louisiana’s last execution in 2010, pentobarbital was not used. But one of the three chemicals used in the last lethal injection — sodium thiopental— has been in short supply in the United States so states have had to seek out other drugs.
Several other states have used pentobarbital in lethal injections. Shows said courts in those states have upheld its use in executions.
Gov. Bobby Jindal issued a statement through his spokesman supporting Louisiana’s planned method of execution, but press secretary Sean Lansing didn’t answer a question about whether the governor had been briefed on the details.
“We are confident the method of carrying out this sentence is an acceptable procedure under the United States and Louisiana constitutions,” Lansing said in an email.
After Brady’s ruling, Shows entered an affidavit into the court record from the Louisiana State Penitentiary’s pharmacy director, Mary Labatut, saying the pentobarbital that would be used came from Illinois-based pharmaceutical company Lundbeck Inc., with no details of when it was purchased.