Keeping execution under wraps in South Dakota


Pentobarbital – the chemical used in SD’s “one drug cocktail” and the unspoken subject of one of Attorney General Marty Jackley’s five proposed bills for the 2013 session.

Attorney General Marty Jackley has set his priorities for 2013, proposing five bills to the South Dakota legislature. Apparently, one of his priorities is protecting the manufacturers who keep SD’s death chamber up and running:

The second AG bill would add privacy protections for the manufacturers and pharmacists who mix and sell the drugs used to execute prisoners in South Dakota. Currently, it is a Class 2 misdemeanor for anyone to disclose “protected information,” which includes the names of DOC employees who are part of the execution team. A class 2 misdemeanor is punishable by up to 30 days in jail.

Jackley wants to expand the definition of “protected information” to include the names of entities supplying lethal injection materials, and wants to make disclosure a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to a year in jail.

Federal public defenders in Arkansas filed multiple appeals on behalf of murderer Donald Moeller in the years and months leading up to his execution in October, many of which demanded information on the origins and quality of the drugs used in the process.

The appeals stopped at the request of Moeller, who told a federal judge he didn’t want to continue fighting his sentence.

This makes sense enough. The Dutch manufacturer Lundbeck has blocked all sales to the U.S. of pentobarbital, used in SD’s one-drug protocol, because capital punishment violates international human rights, following a number of other manufacturers that refuse to sell execution drugs to the U.S. It’s bad for business to have your name associated with state-sponsored murder, not to speak of morally questionable. And we wouldn’t want to make killing a man any harder than it has to be, would we?

I’ve always found the veil of secrecy over executions somewhat puzzling. In earlier centuries, executions were a profoundly public event, an opportunity for the multitudes to witness the power of the state in action. Indeed, the deterrence value of a punishment as infrequently used as the death penalty – South Dakota has only used it three times since 1976 – depends, to a large extent, on its degree of publicity. Murderers have to know that they will get the death penalty in order to be deterred by it.

But my  motive for lifting the veil from capital punishment has little to do with improving its questionable deterrent capacity. Rather, I believe that if the state is going to kill people, citizens have a right to see exactly what their government is doing in their name. As a staunch abolitionist, I would strongly favor televising all executions. Grisly? Yes. But I’m willing to bet that public support for the death penalty would fall off pretty precipitously.


About sdpeacejustice

The SD Peace & Justice Center connects a grassroots network of South Dakotans working for social justice and against violence and oppression.
This entry was posted in Death Penalty, News, SD Legislature 2013 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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