Texas Execution Information Center

Execution Report: Tommy Sells

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The Harris family moved back to Kansas after Katy's murder. "It eats me up that I tried to help Tommy," Terry Harris said in a 2001 interview. "I talked with him. He was a guy down on his luck that I tried to help. He repaid me by killing my daughter." All of Sells' appeals in state and federal court were denied, up until the day before his scheduled execution. Then, on Wednesday, 2 April, U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore issued a temporary injunction stopping Sells' execution unless Texas provided his attorneys information about its supply of pentobarbital, the sedative used in lethal injections.

A compounding pharmacy that supplied pentobarbital to the prison in late 2013 subsequently asked for it to be returned after its identity was revealed. The pharmacy owner said he found himself "in the middle of a firestorm" of hate calls, protestors, and media attention. The state refused to return the chemical and performed four executions with it in late 2013 and four more in early 2014. The state then obtained a new supply, but refused to disclose its source.

Death penalty states have turned to compounding pharmacies to prepare pentobarbital since 2013, when the manufacturer of Nembutal, the trademarked form of the drug, decided to stop selling its product to state prisons. Lawyers for condemned prisoners claim that since compounded pentobarbital is not FDA-approved, its quality and effectiveness can not be assured.

Lawyers representing the state of Texas testified to Judge Gilmore that the batch of pentobarbital Sells would be executed with had been tested by an independent laboratory that confirmed its potency and lack of contamination. Attorneys for Sells said that they needed to verify the quality of the drug in order to protect their client from experiencing pain. The lawyers asked for information including the name of the compounding pharmacy, the name of the testing laboratory and the names of its employees. The state argued that secrecy was necessary to protect these people from harassment and threats of violence.

A few hours after Gilmore's ruling,, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed her, noting that Texas has used compounded pentobarbital for eight executions without incident. The appeals court called the lawyers' concerns over this new batch of the drug "speculation."

The United States Supreme Court declined to take up the case.

Krystal Surles, Terry Harris, and Shawn Harris were among those who attended Sells' execution. When the warden asked Sells if he wanted to make a last statement, he replied, "No." He smiled at his supporters as the lethal injection was started. He then took a few deep breaths, closed his eyes, and began to snore. After less than a minute, he stopped breathing. He was pronounced dead at 6:27 p.m.

"Basically, the dude just took a nap," Terry Harris told reporters afterward.


By David Carson. Posted on 4 April 2014.
Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Texas Attorney General's office, court documents, ABC News, Associated Press, Huntsville Item, crimelibrary.com, crimezzz.net, truthinjustice.org.

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