The following is a statement from attorney Maurie Levin, whose public information request was denied by the Attorney General today:
"It is deeply disturbing and frankly quite shocking that the highest law enforcement official in the state has suddenly reversed his position on disclosure when it comes to lethal injection, particularly considering the horrifically botched execution in Oklahoma last month that was the direct result of secrecy surrounding the process.
Serious questions surround this about-face, including why our Attorney General, who once championed transparency, is suddenly now supporting secretive government practices.”
"Abbott switches mind on death drug secrecy," is Mike Ward's report for the Houston Chronicle.
In a surprise legal about-face, Attorney General Greg Abbott on Thursday ruled that state prison officials no longer have to tell the public where they obtain drugs used to execute condemned criminals.
Abbott's decision falls in line with other states that have sought to keep secret the source of their lethal drugs, to keep death-penalty opponents from pressuring suppliers to quit selling to execution chambers. His decision reversed three rulings since 2010 that had mandated the information about the suppliers be made public.
Abbott, the Republican nominee for governor in the state that operates the nation's busiest death chamber, said in his five-page decision that he was swayed to allow secrecy by a "threat assessment" from Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, that disclosure of details could endanger suppliers.
AP coverage is, "Abbott backs secrecy on drugs for executions," by Nomaan Merchant and Michael Graczyk, via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Texas prison officials don’t have to tell the public where they get execution drugs, Attorney General Greg Abbott said Thursday, reversing himself on an issue being challenged in several death penalty states.
Since 2010, Abbott, the Republican nominee for governor in the nation’s busiest death penalty state, had three times told prison officials that they should reveal the source of the drugs. He ruled that the benefits of government transparency outweighed the state’s objections.
But on Thursday, Abbott’s office sided with state prison officials who said their supplier would be in danger if identified, citing a “threat assessment” signed by Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw.
The assessment, a one-page letter dated March 7, said pharmacies “by design are easily accessible to the public and present a soft target to violent attacks.” Naming a pharmacy that supplies execution drugs “presents a substantial threat of physical harm … and should be avoided to the greatest extent possible,” the letter said.
Abbott’s decision, which can be appealed to the courts, came the same day that Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said his state should consider creating its own laboratory for execution drugs rather than relying on “uneasy cooperation” with outside sources. A state-run lab would be a first, and it wasn’t clear whether Missouri could implement the change without approval from the Legislature.
"Greg Abbott: Keep execution drug supplier secret," is by Chuck Lindell for the Austin American-Statesman.
Prison officials had tried — and failed — to use that Supreme Court ruling in previous attempts to withhold the name of the state’s execution drug supplier. In July 2012, for example, Abbott’s office found that prison officials had failed to prove that harassment of suppliers “could escalate into violence.”
The latest effort, however, included a “threat assessment” from Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw that changed the outcome, according to the letter written by Assistant Attorney General Yen-Ha Le.
“It is our assessment that some of the threats made to the Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy that we identified should be taken seriously,” McCraw wrote. “Pharmacies by design are easily accessible to the public and present a soft target to violent attacks.”
Naming the state’s execution drug supplier “should be avoided to the greatest extent possible,” McCraw wrote.
In the letter to prison officials, Le said the Supreme Court noted that “deference must be afforded” to risk assessments made by law enforcement experts. Given McCraw’s evaluation, Le concluded, “We find the department must withhold the identifying information of the pharmacy and pharmacist.”
The Texas Tribune posts, "AG: Prisons Can Keep Info About Execution Drugs Secret," by Terri Langford.
Abbott, in his ruling, said that the DPS “threat assessment” was the proof needed to keep private information about suppliers of lethal drugs used by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The ruling allowing secrecy is noteworthy because it was made in the midst of Abbott's campaign for Texas governor against Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis and because in three prior rulings, Abbott has ruled for transparency when it comes to execution information. Calls to Abbott's state office and his campaign office were not immediately returned Thursday.