TIME Criminal Justice

Texas Execution Back On After Appeals Court Overturns Lower Judge

Tommy Lynn Sells.
Val Verde County Sheriff/AP Tommy Lynn Sells.

A federal appeals court has overturned a lower court judge's ruling to postpone the execution of a convicted serial killer until the state could divulge the source of the lethal drugs that would be used to kill him. The execution will now proceed

The execution of a Texas serial killer is back on schedule after a federal appeals court reversed a lower judge’s ruling that had temporarily blocked the death sentence.

The judge’s order halted the scheduled execution of the serial killer and another condemned man until the state reveals to their attorneys the source of the drugs that will be used to end their lives. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling Wednesday in the serial killer’s case, which is now likely headed for the U.S. Supreme Court, the Associated Press reports. The court said it would rule later on that of the other condemned man.

Tommy Lynn Sells, 49, is scheduled to be executed Thursday for the murder of a 13-year-old girl in south Texas, and is a suspect in at least eight additional murders, including that of a nine-year-old girl in 1999. Along with Ramiro Hernandez Llanas, 44, who is scheduled to be executed the following week for beating a rancher to death in 1997, Sells sued the state of Texas for information about the purity and supplier of the drugs that would be used in the executions.

The decision halting the execution echoes a similar ruling made by a federal judge in Oklahoma in March. States around the country have had difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs, as international pharmaceutical companies refuse to supply them for ethical reasons. Many corrections departments have instead turned to unregulated compounding pharmacies to obtain drugs such as pentobarbital, a powerful sedative, for use in lethal injections.

Lawyers in several states have challenged the use of unregulated pharmacies for supplying contaminated drugs that could cause pain or suffering. Critics have pointed to the execution in January of an Oklahoma prisoner who reportedly said he could feel his “whole body burning” as evidence.


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