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Texas carries out first US execution of 2017 amid dispute over drugs

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Texas prison authorities carried out the first US execution of 2017 on Wednesday, as controversy continued to swirl around the drugs used to conduct such lethal injections.

Christopher Wilkins, 48, was executed at the Texas state penitentiary at Huntsville after the US Supreme Court denied him a last-minute reprieve. 

Wilkins was convicted of a double murder in 2005, sparked when he said a dealer and his friend sold him a $20 dose of crack cocaine that turned out to be a rock, then laughed at him.

During his trial, he also admitted to killing a man a day earlier in a dispute over a pay phone, and driving a stolen car into two people on a sidewalk because he thought one had stolen his sunglasses.

During his 2008 trial, Wilkins told jurors that the death penalty would be "no big deal," according to the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram.

But in his subsequent appeals, Wilkins, a former truck driver, insisted that he was poorly represented by his lawyers, including one who had already accepted a job with the prosecutor's office.

In most years, Texas executes more convicts than any other state, though last year Georgia surpassed it (with nine executions, to Texas's seven).

Nationwide, capital punishment has been falling for years — last year's total of 20 executions was a 30-year low, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based nonprofit.

Texas, like other death-penalty states, has faced a serious shortage of the drugs used in lethal injections, as major pharmaceutical firms — particularly in Europe — have refused to provide them.

In fact, last week Texas sued the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for impounding a shipment of sodium thiopental that the big southern state had intended to use in executions.

In October 2015, both Texas and Arizona had attempted to secretly import vials of that drug from a supplier in India. The FDA seized the drug, saying the use of the barbiturate in executions was illegal.

In recent years, Texas has used only the drug pentobarbital in executions, according to the Texas Tribune.

The controversy over lethal injection appears certain to blow up again this month, as two states — Virginia and Ohio — are planning to carry out executions using midazolam. That use of the drug has been heavily criticized because it is a tranquilizer.


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