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Law reportedly allows Tennessee to plan executions in secret

The state has scheduled at least 10 executions through 2015.
A witness room faces an execution chamber. (Photo by Caroline Groussain/AFP/Getty)
A witness room faces an execution chamber.

As Tennessee officials push to execute a record number of people, a recently passed law will now allow them to plan in secret.

According to a report in The Tennessean, legislation passed a year ago allows the state to withhold all kinds of information from the public, including the type of drugs the state plans to use, who the drug manufacturer is, and exactly who will carry out the executions.

Other states, including Missouri, Oklahoma and Georgia have similar laws on the books.

"Tennesseans should be concerned because these executions are ostensibly for them," Kelley Henry -- an assistant federal public defender representing 11 inmates suing the state to make the information public -- told the newspaper. "They are carried out in the name of the people.”

He added: "The people have a right to know that the Department of Corrections isn't torturing citizens using public funds."

The state has scheduled at least 10 executions through 2015. Since 1960, the state has only executed six people.

Two controversial executions this year have highlighted the debate over capital punishment and specifically the types of drugs that are used. Several major drug makers have stopped selling substances for lethal injections, including pentobarbital, to U.S. corrections agencies out of opposition to the death penalty. In turn, some states with drug shortages have turned to controversial “compounding pharmacies" to mix batches of the drug independently.

During a January execution in Oklahoma, Michael Lee Wilson claimed he felt his whole body burning seconds after he had been injected with compounded pentobarbital. In Ohio, an inmate thrashed and gasped for air during the 25 minutes it took him to die after being given a new lethal drug cocktail that had never been used before. 

The first of the 10 executions in Tennessee is scheduled for April 22. The state has asked for execution dates for at least two more people.

Currently, 18 states ban the death penalty.