LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska’s governor and top prosecutor, who are vowing to see the executions of 10 death row inmates carried out despite the state’s recent abolition of the death penalty, may find the federal government blocking any such attempt.
As first reported Saturday by The Omaha World-Herald, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the state cannot legally import a drug needed to carry out lethal injection, Nebraska’s only legal method of execution.
Gov. Pete Ricketts said Friday that he doesn’t plan to cancel a shipment of sodium thiopental and another drug that the state bought from overseas earlier this month. Sodium thiopental is an anesthetic required to carry out executions under state corrections department rules. The drug is no longer manufactured in the United States.
Ricketts’ comments came in the wake of the Nebraska Legislature’s vote this week repealing the death penalty over his veto. The repeal goes into effect in three months.
“At this time, we have no indication, aside from media reports, that sodium thiopental has recently been imported into the United States by state officials or correctional systems,” FDA spokesman Jeff Ventura said Saturday in an email to The Associated Press. “With very limited exceptions, which do not apply here, it is unlawful to import this drug, and FDA would refuse its admission into the United States.”
Attorney General Doug Peterson has raised questions about whether the death penalty repeal unconstitutionally changes the sentences of current death row inmates to life in prison.
Both he and Ricketts have said they intend to see the executions of Nebraska’s current death row inmates carried out.
James Foster, a spokesman for the Nebraska Department of Corrections, told the World-Herald that the agency has been advised by Peterson’s office that its actions to obtain the drug are legal.
“There is no FDA rule or case law that the agency is aware of that would categorically preclude the importation of these two drugs,” Foster told the newspaper.
In a case involving Arizona, California and Tennessee, a federal appeals court ruled in 2013 that the FDA shouldn’t have allowed sodium thiopental into the country without inspection for use in executions.