The Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX

Local News

October 3, 2007

Informal talks opened door to lethal injection

Editor’s Note: This story is the first in a series examining the death penalty from both opponents of and those in favor of lethal injection.

It was a long time ago, said Dr. Gerry Etheredge, when he was speaking with Dr. Ralph Gray about lethal doses of drugs.

The thing that had brought these two men together — Etheredge, a veterinarian by trade, and Gray, then the Medical Director of the Texas Department of Corrections — was lethal injection, a process that Gray, along with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, would spearhead.

“When they first started talking about lethal injection, I discussed with him the use of that drug,” Etheredge said.

That drug was Pavulon, more commonly known under its generic name of pancuronium bromide, a drug that is now at the forefront of what seems to be a nationwide halt to lethal injection in the U.S., as all ears wait for a decision from the Supreme Court.

That conversation over this simple drug may have shaped the current method of lethal injection in the state, but it wasn’t the first in what one Supreme Court justice called a “machinery of death,” and an “experiment (that) has failed.”

An experiment in death

While Texas was the first to use the brand-new lethal injection protocol in 1982, it got its start some five years earlier in nearby Oklahoma.

Bill Wiseman, a Republican state representative from Tulsa, was in the capitol building the day the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted to re-instate the death penalty after a lengthy halt in the U.S.

Looking for a more humane way to execute the condemned — at the time, hanging, firing squad, the gas chamber and the electric chair were the only methods available — Wiseman called out to the Oklahoma Medical Association for help.

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