There is a severe shortage of the drug sodium thiopental, used in the U.S. in three-drug cocktails for executions by lethal injection.
The Associated Press reports that Hospira, Inc., which is the sole manufacturer in this country, said new batches of the barbiturate would not be available until early 2011. Hospira blames the problem on suppliers of the materials that go into manufacturing sodium thiopental.
As would be expected, there was a court challenge once the prisoner's legal counsel was advised of the intention to use a substitute. A hearing in federal court during which the judge heard from anesthesia experts from both sides, resulted in a ruling in favor of the State of Oklahoma.
The prosecution's medical expert testified that pentobarbital causes unconsciousness and even death within minutes. That countered the defense's witness who had to admit there was no data to back up his position, that the alternative drug could cause the inmate to remain aware during the administration of the other drugs that cause severe pain prior to death.
An appeal to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals brought the same result on Tuesday, setting up the execution of John David Duty, 58 to go off on time at 6 pm CT today.
Duty agreed to plead guilty to first degree murder for the 2001 killing of a fellow inmate at the prison in which he was already incarcerated. The crimes that put Duty in jail to begin with were rape, robbery and shooting with intent to kill.
Although Duty's attorneys asked for a life sentence without parole after this latest crime, Duty himself admitted that he would kill again if put back into the general prison population.
Earlier this week, an episode of the CBS drama, "The Good Wife" used a plot line that included the sodium thiopental shortage.