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Texas set to execute first inmate by single-drug lethal injection

July 18, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • Death row inmate Yokamon Hearn will be the first prisoner executed under the state's new single-drug procedure.
Death row inmate Yokamon Hearn will be the first prisoner executed under… (Texas Department of Criminal…)

HOUSTON -- Texas officials Wednesday were preparing for the state's first single-drug lethal injection after the U.S. Supreme Court  rejected the appeals of death row inmate Yokamon Hearn.

The justices refused Hearn's appeals hours before he was scheduled to be executed for the 1998 murder of Frank Meziere, a stockbroker shot after a carjacking at a Dallas car wash.

Hearn's execution, which could start any time after 6 p.m. Central time, will be the sixth in Texas this year -- for a total of  482 since the state began executing inmates by lethal injection in December 1982, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman told the Los Angeles Times.

Hearn's lawyers had argued he should be disqualified from execution based on his mental disabilities. They also argued that he lacked adequate legal assistance early in his case and that conflicting court opinions had delayed his appeals.

Hearn, 33, will be the first inmate in the nation's busiest death penalty state executed by injection with a single lethal dose of the sedative pentobarbital, according to Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Last week, Texas prison officials announced they were modifying the three-drug procedure used since 1982.  The modifications were made “because the agency’s stockpile of the second drug expired and we were unable to obtain another shipment,” Clark said, referring to the drug pancuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant.

The state was forced to replace sodium thiopental with pentobarbital last March after the U.S. supplier of the former drug halted distribution amid international protests. The same month, two death row inmates sued the state, alleging that the decision to switch drugs was made in secret without public input; they called for a federal inquiry.

Switching to pentobarbital, also known as Nembutal, raised the cost of drugs for each execution from $83.55 to $1,286.86.

Opponents of capital punishment had hoped the drug costs and shortages would slow executions in Texas and other states.

But in the statement released last week, Texas officials noted that "the agency currently has an adequate supply of pentobarbital to carry out all scheduled executions. The one-drug protocol has been adopted by several states, and has been upheld as constitutional by the courts."

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Join Molly on Google+ and Twitter @mollyhf. Email: molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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