By Kate Giammarise / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett on Friday signed a temporary reprieve of a scheduled execution to allow the Department of Corrections to obtain the drugs needed for a lethal injection.
Hubert Michael, 58, had been scheduled to be executed Sept. 22; he was sentenced to death for the 1993 murder of 16-year-old Trista Eng.
Pennsylvania hasn’t executed anyone since 1999.
Only three people have been put to death in the state since capital punishment was reinstated in 1978. All of them had waived their rights to further appeals.
In recent years, drugs that states use in lethal injections have become increasingly hard to obtain, as some manufacturers have refused to sell them for that purpose.
Some states have resorted to obtaining them from compounding pharmacies, and some have put executions on hold.
“I am committed to carrying out the sentence of the court and giving Trista Eng and her family the justice they deserve,” Mr. Corbett said in a written statement about the reprieve.
The execution also remains stayed by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Once the drugs are procured, written notice will be sent from Corrections Secretary John Wetzel to Gov. Corbett. Absent a stay, Gov. Corbett shall then sign Michael’s fifth execution warrant setting a new date for execution,” according to Mr. Corbett’s office. Gov. Tom Ridge signed Michael’s first execution warrant on July 31, 1996.
The governor’s decision to seek a delay is not surprising, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
“A lot has changed since their last execution about the whole lethal injection process,” Mr. Dieter said.
The Post-Gazette and three other newspapers filed a motion Thursday with the American Civil Liberties Union seeking to unseal documents related to the supply chain of drugs that could be used in an execution.
“We think it was entirely appropriate for the governor to issue the reprieve,” said David Rudovsky, an attorney for Michael.
State statute requires specific drugs to be used in the lethal injection process, he said.
“It is apparent the commonwealth has not been able to secure those drugs,” Mr. Rudovsky said.
The ACLU applauded the governor’s action.
“There is more reason today than ever before for restraint, given the string of botched executions in recent months, the growing evidence that many capital defendants do not have effective counsel and the fact that a specially appointed commission of the Pennsylvania Legislature is currently studying our state’s death penalty.
“Pennsylvania has not carried out an involuntary execution since 1962, and there is no reason to start again in the face of so much evidence that the process violates our most fundamental notions of fairness,” said a statement from Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
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