JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — The Mississippi Department of Corrections is asking a state judge to rule that information on execution drugs and suppliers is confidential and exempt from the state’s Public Records Act.
The motion came in its response to a lawsuit filed by lawyers for a woman who faces the death penalty for killing her husband. Attorneys for Michelle Byrom say the state is providing no information on whether the drugs are safe and reliable or whether they are tainted, expired, counterfeited or compromised in some way.
The corrections agency said it has provided essentially everything requested except for the drug maker’s identity.
Byrom and her attorneys asked Hinds County Chancery Judge William Singletary to hold the agency in violation of Mississippi’s public records law.
She was sentenced to death in 2000 in Tishomingo County in the shooting death of her husband, Edward “Eddie” Byrom Sr. Attorney General Jim Hood has asked the state Supreme Court to set a March 27 execution date for Byrom.
Vanessa Carroll, who now represents Byrom for the New Orleans office of the MacArthur Justice Center, was an attorney with the agency that handles appeals for Mississippi’s death row inmates. She submitted the same public records request in October when she worked there and received a May 2012 invoice for the barbiturate sodium pentobarbital and a copy of the protocol for administering the drugs. Neither was released to her this time when it was requested in February.
Special Assistant Attorney General Paul Barnes said the department erred in not providing the information and has now done so. Barnes said information on the expiration of the execution drugs would be provided under seal to the plaintiffs and the court.
“MDOC admits that it has withheld the identity of the entity that provides the lethal injection drugs, but denies that this information should be produced in response to a public records request, or that MDOC’s redaction of information constitutes a knowing and wilful violation of the Public Records Act,” Barnes said.
He said the Corrections Department is requesting a court order to specifically declare the name and other identifying information concerning the entity to be confidential, privileged, or otherwise exempt from the requirements of the Public Records Act.
Barnes said corrections officials believe security and safety interests demand that the supplier’s identity remain confidential.
In a response to the agency, Carroll said the department claimed several exemptions to the Public Records Act that do not apply to the information Byrom’s seeks.
Carroll was critical of the department’s claims that revealing the information would be a security risk.
“A private pharmaceutical provider that accepts Mississippi taxpayer dollars should not be able to operate in secrecy simply because it fears future economic reprisal due to its participation in state executions,” Carroll said.
“The supplier’s anticipated economic consequences, and MDOC’s anticipated difficulty in procuring lethal injection drugs, are insufficient to authorize the stifling of public debate concerning Mississippi’s infliction of the most serious penalty permitted by law,” she said.