Court records: Virginia could execute 125 prisoners for the same price to execute Ricky Gray

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RICHMOND, Va. – A day before the scheduled execution, Governor Terry McAuliffe decided he will not intervene in the execution of Ricky Gray.

Gray was sentenced to death after he was found guilty for murdering a Virginia Beach homecoming queen, her husband in their two young girls on New Year’s Day in 2006.

His execution is scheduled for Jan. 18th at 9:00 pm.

While Gray will become the 112th person to be executed in Virginia since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty back in the 1970s, he will also become the first prisoner in Virginia to be executed using a new lethal injection cocktail.

First, Gray will be given midazolam which is supposed to make him unconscious. Second, Gray will be given pancuronium bromide which will paralyze him. Finally, Gray will be given potassium chloride to stop his heart.

But critics of this process have a problem with the first drug – midazolam – the drug involved in many recent botched executions in the United States.

Megan McCracken is a lethal injection expert at U.C. Berkeley School of Law. While midazolam is supposed to make Gray unconscious, McCracken says it is actually just an strong anti-anxiety medication.

“In clinical use, it is very potent,” McCracken told News 3’s Merris Badcock via phone on Tuesday. “But it is a potent anti-anxiety drug. It is being asked to perform a function here that it is simply not suited to perform.”

In recent botched executions, McCracken says the midazolam stops working, and prisoners wake up in the middle of the process.

“We have seen struggling, difficulty drawing breath, gasping, and simply that the prisoner remains alive, showing signs of struggle for much longer than anticipated.”

Because the prisoner has been paralyzed by the 2nd drug, McCracken says it is impossible for the inmate to express what is happening to them.

“The constitution requires that executions be humane, that they not be cruel on unusual,” said McCracken, when asked why someone should care how a killer is killed. “That is really sort of the underpinning of it all.

A bill recently allowed Virginia to acquire lethal injections drugs through confidential compounding pharmacies – pharmacies that make drugs to order and are hardly regulated by the FDA, according to McCracken.

Lethal injection drugs have gotten harder to obtain because pharmaceutical companies do not want their names associated with the death penalty.

In 2015, Virginia executed Alfred Prieto using a different three-drug cocktail which did not include midazolam. McCracken says it cost the state about $525.

To execute Ricky Gray, court records show the Virginia Department of Corrections paid $66,000 for their execution cocktail, which they got from a confidential compounding pharmacy.

That means in 2015, Virginia could have executed 125 prisoners for the same price to execute Ricky Gray in 2017.

Governor McAuliffe issued this statement to the press today. "I have decided not to intervene in this case. Mr. Gray was convicted in a fair and impartial trial, and a jury sentenced him to death in accordance with Virginia law."

Following McAuliffe’s announcement, Gray’s attorney’s filed an emergency application to stay the execution with the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a press release from his attorneys, they claim “the emergency application states that the Virginia Department of Corrections plans to carry out Wednesday’s scheduled execution using an ‘experimental and unconstitutional method of execution’ and asks the U.S. Supreme Court ‘to intervene to preserve its jurisdiction to review the merits of [Mr. Gray’s] claims.’”