LINCOLN — A death penalty opponent has asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate Nebraska's purchase of a key lethal injection drug from India.
Attorney Alan Peterson of Lincoln wrote to Holder last week on behalf of condemned killer Carey Dean Moore.
Alisa Finella, a U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman, said Friday that officials will review the letter. She declined further comment.
In his letter, Peterson said there is “strong evidence that Nebraska illegally imported” the chemical sodium thiopental.
“Illegally imported thiopental may be adulterated, counterfeit, or otherwise ineffective in providing adequate sedation to minimize risks of unnecessary and severe pain in the course of a lethal injection execution,” Peterson said.
“That is a risk with both humane and legal implications,” he said.
Sodium thiopental, a fast-acting sedative, is the first of three drugs that have been used for executions.
The last U.S. manufacturer of the chemical stopped making it earlier this year. Since then, Nebraska and at least six other states have gone overseas to obtain supplies of the drug.
Nebraska received a shipment of the chemical in January from an Indian company, Kayem Pharmaceutical.
Three days later, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning asked the Nebraska Supreme Court to set a new execution date for Moore.
The court has not responded to Bruning's request or to motions filed by Moore's attorney, Jerry Soucie.
Soucie is challenging the constitutionality of Nebraska's lethal injection law and questioning whether the state complied with federal laws governing controlled substances.
In his letter, Peterson raised similar questions about whether the Nebraska Department of Corrections followed the proper procedure to import a controlled substance.
He said documents obtained through a public records request show no evidence the department was registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration to import the drug for a lethal injection.
Bruning's office did not respond to messages seeking comment about the letter.
Last month, DEA officials seized Georgia's supply of sodium thiopental, saying there were questions about how the drug had been imported. Georgia's supply came from a British pharmaceutical distributor.
Since then, Tennessee and Kentucky also have turned over their supplies to federal officials.
Tennessee officials said the state acted at the request of the DEA. Kentucky officials said they were cooperating in a federal investigation.
The Associated Press reported that Tennessee officials purchased the drug from an overseas supplier last year. Kentucky bought 18 grams of sodium thiopental in February from a Georgia company.
The investigation of drug imports started after an attorney wrote to Holder on behalf of Georgia death row inmate Andrew Grant DeYoung.
In a motion filed March 24, Soucie raised questions about Kayem's legitimacy as a pharmaceutical distributor and about Neon Laboratories, the Indian manufacturer of the drug.
He alleged that neither company had complied with U.S. laws governing drug manufacturing and importing.
The laws are intended to ensure that drugs meet standards for purity, effectiveness and safety.
Nebraska officials had the imported chemical tested by a Minnesota laboratory to verify it was the substance ordered.
No executions have been set and no courts have reviewed Nebraska's lethal injection law since lawmakers passed it in 2009.
Moore, 53, was sentenced to die in 1980 for the murders of two Omaha cabdrivers. His case is the oldest among the 12 men on death row.
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