Judge halts Tommy Lynn Sells execution, cites drug issue

Convicted killer Tommy Lynn Sells, who had been set to die Thursday, April 3, 2014.
AP Photo/Texas Department of Criminal Justice

Last Updated Apr 2, 2014 4:38 PM EDT

HOUSTON - A federal judge on Wednesday stopped the scheduled execution of a serial killer in Texas, saying justice department officials must disclose information to the inmate's lawyers about the supplier of a new batch of drugs that would be used to kill him.

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U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore issued a temporary injunction stopping the lethal injection of Tommy Lynn Sells. He had been scheduled to die Thursday.

State officials have insisted the identity of the supplier must be kept secret to protect the company from threats of violence.

Attorneys insist the name is needed to verify the quality of the drug and keep the inmate from unconstitutional pain.

Gilmore had ordered the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to provide to Sells' attorneys information about the drug procurement, supplier, testing, what kind and who conducted the testing.

Texas prison officials haven't provided them "with sufficient information," Gilmore said in her ruling Wednesday.

It was not immediately certain if lawyers for the state will appeal Gilmore's ruling.

Since obtaining a new supply of the drug pentobarbital two weeks ago, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice had cited unspecified security concerns in refusing to disclose the source and other details about the sedative it plans to use to put inmates to death.

"As a result, the state's secrecy regarding the product to be used for lethal injection has precluded (the inmates and their attorneys) from evaluating or challenging the constitutionality of the method of execution," Gilmore wrote in her a five-page opinion.

Sells, 49, was convicted of killing a 13-year-old South Texas girl asleep at her home in 1999. Kaylene Harris was stabbed nearly two dozen times and had her throat slashed. A 10-year-old friend, Krystal Surles, also was attacked but survived, and testified against Sells at trial. Sells confessed to the slaying and has been tied to more than 20 others around the nation. He has claimed responsibility for as many as 70 murders.

Another inmate scheduled to die next week, Ramiro Hernandez-Llanas, also is involved in the lawsuit.

Hernandez-Llanas, 44, a Mexican national, was convicted of killing a Kerrville-area rancher, Glen Lich, 48, who had employed him.