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March 22, 2011

Defense lawyers in three states urging DOJ to look into execution drug sources

As detailed in this AP article, "attorneys in Arizona and Kentucky joined a lawyer in Georgia on Tuesday, calling on the Justice Department to investigate how the states acquired a key lethal injection drug that is in short supply in the U.S."  Here is more:

The requests come as many of the 34 death penalty states scrambling to find an alternative for lethal injections after the sole U.S. maker of sodium thiopental said earlier this year it would no longer produce it.  Justice Department officials didn't immediately return telephone calls Tuesday, but previously have said they were reviewing a request for an investigation an attorney in Georgia.  Drug Enforcement Administration officials confirmed a week ago they had seized Georgia's supply of the drug.

Meanwhile, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said the state was still trying to get sodium thiopental from other states, but officials may have no choice but to switch to another drug, which would be probably be pentobarbital.  "We're still looking into using this other substance (sodium thiopental), but we aren't really confident that we're going to get some," he said.

Texas and Oklahoma recently announced the switch to pentobarbital, and plan to use it along with two other drugs. Ohio became the first state to use pentobarbital alone when it executed an inmate with the drug March 10.

Kentucky public defender David Barron said in a letter to the Justice Department that there were multiple questions about how CorrectHealth, a Stockbridge, Ga.-based company, got a supply of sodium thiopental to sell to Kentucky.  Barron also wants to know if Kentucky officials complied with federal law when it contacted Kayem Pharmaceuticals in India.  Barron represents Ralph Baze, who was sentenced to death for killing a sheriff and a deputy.  "It is likely that illegally imported or possessed thiopental will be used in the execution of Mr. Baze and multiple other individuals on Kentucky's death row," Barron wrote....

Eight days after getting the drug from the Georgia company, Kentucky officials contacted Kayem Pharmaceuticals in India, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. But the state opted not to buy the drug because it is sold in packs of 500 single-gram vials for about $5,000, which is more than the state needs.  "It would require us to alter our normal procurement process and would require Kentucky to obtain enough thiopental for more than 80 executions -- a quantity which would expire long before it could be utilized," Kentucky Justice Cabinet spokeswoman Jennifer Brislin said....

In Arizona, federal public defender Dale Baich called for the Justice Department probe because the state bought supplies of sodium thiopental from Dream Pharma, a British company that some defense attorneys have described as a fly-by-night operation.  "We believe the state did not comply with all the DEA regulations in obtaining the drugs," Baich said Tuesday.

March 22, 2011 at 05:16 PM | Permalink


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The irony of lawyers for axe murderers insisting on punctilious compliance with DEA regs is just fabulous.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 22, 2011 7:45:00 PM

I would file ethics complaints and sue these lawyers for all costs, based on the improper motives of their allegations, namely to harass and intimidate by lawyer gotcha. The states should defund their offices. To deter.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 22, 2011 10:34:16 PM

A few months ago, Nebraska bought enough sodium thiopental from an Indian company (India has the death penalty) to execute 166 murderers. Why has there not been more made of this in the press? Why can't states that are experiencing a sodium thiopental shortage just purchase some from the aforementioned Indian company? Or, in the alternative, couldn't they acquire some of the drug from Nebraska, which has much more than it can possibly use?

Posted by: alpino | Mar 23, 2011 1:26:57 AM

Bill - There is no irony there at all. In fact, it is perfectly in accord with representing a capitally convicted individual. It's simple: either the Constitution and other laws mean something, or they don't. You will not find any argument proffered that those "ax murderers" (if you have evidence that any of Dave Barron's or Dale Baich's clients are ax murderers, then let's see it, otherwise that's just gratuitous hyperbole) should escape punishment for breaking the law. What you WILL find is vigorous argument that the trials, convictions and sentences to which these defendants are subject must comply with the laws as well. So yes, it DOES matter if the state corrections departments are violating federal drug laws in their quests to execute, in the same way that it DOES matter if prosecutors hide Brady evidence to ensure a conviction, or peremptorily strike jurors in violation of Batson. Many of the Bill of Rights were intended to protect those very persons -- not the law-abiding individual, but the person charged with -- and even convicted of -- a crime or crimes. But you knew that already. Don't resort to just trying to score cheap points with Supremacy Clause; it's unbecoming of you.

Posted by: ALB | Mar 23, 2011 1:52:57 AM

Alpino -
Nebraska has publicly said they will not sell any of their excess thiopental. So that may explain why other states have not obtained thiopental from Nebraska. Also, your observation that India has the death penalty has nothing to do with production of thiopental in that country, since they 1) have had one execution since 1996, and 2) execute via hanging, not lethal injection. Just for the record...

Posted by: ALB | Mar 23, 2011 1:57:48 AM

ALB --

"Don't resort to just trying to score cheap points with Supremacy Clause...

To paraphrase you, if you have any evidence that I'm trying to score cheap points (or any points) with SC, let's see it, otherwise that's just gratuitous hyperbole.

"...it's unbecoming of you."

I'm interested to see that you've appointed yourself hall monitor for becomingness, but since that's now the state of play, I must have missed your admonitions to your anti-DP allies who have labelled Kent, federalist and me as Nazis, bloodlusters, savages, barbarians and on and on. Where was that?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 23, 2011 9:32:25 AM

ALB, I pointed out that India has capital punishment to show that it's unlikely they'll ban the export of sodium thiopental to the United States, as abolitionist countries such as Italy and the United Kingdom have done.

So, again, even if Nebraska won't sell any of their excess supply (though I suppose they could give it away), why don't states that are short on sodium thiopental just buy some more from the Indian company? What am I missing here?

Posted by: alpino | Mar 23, 2011 10:50:58 AM

Thanks for your share,thanks a lot.Good luck!

Posted by: Big pony | Apr 11, 2011 6:17:58 AM

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