A corrections officer outside Ely State Prison in Nevada.Photo: John Locher (AP)
The execution of twice-convicted killer Scott Raymond Dozier in Nevada on Wednesday was postponed after pharmaceutical company Alvogen requested a federal judge prevent officials from botching an execution with their drug midazolam.
Per the Associated Press, Alvogen claimed that Nevada prison officials obtained the sedative, which authorities have used in numerous botched executions that left prisoners in extreme pain, via “subterfuge”:
State prisons spokeswoman Brooke Santina announced the decision Wednesday afternoon after a state court judge in Las Vegas earlier in the day ordered the delay at the request of New Jersey-based drugmaker Alvogen.
Santina says the postponement was made official after a conference call involving state officials trying to reconcile one judge’s order to carry out the execution and another judge’s order to stop it.
Alvogen argued that Nevada prison officials obtained its product, midazolam, through “subterfuge” for unapproved purposes and that it doesn’t want its midazolam, used in “botched” executions.
State attorneys denied that claim and said Nevada officials didn’t do anything wrong.
Alvogen attorney Todd Bice told CBS News that Nevada officials had only been able to obtain the drug by having the company ship it to a Las Vegas pharmacy instead of a prison in the city of Ely. He added that Alvogen had written to the state in April requesting it cease use of its products in executions.
According to the AP, it could be several months before Dozier’s execution is renewed, making Alvogen the first drug manufacturer to have “successfully sued to halt an execution.” Attorney Thomas Ericsson told the news agency that since Alvogen was pursuing a court challenge in Las Vegas to prevent the use of the drug in executions, the move was not unexpected.
CBS reported Nevada officials turned to midazolam as a substitute for its expired stocks of diazepam (Valium). Dozier’s lawyers had also tried to block the use of another drug, the neuromuscular-blocker cisatracurium. The third drug slated to be used in Dozier’s execution cocktail is the synthetic opioid fentanyl; as noted by Wired, the three drugs in combination have never been tested for use for death penalties.
Officials planned to use midazolam and fentanyl to put Dozier into an unfeeling coma, after which they would administer cisatracurium, which would stop his heart. As Wired wrote, it’s unclear whether the three drugs would work as intended or simply put Dozier into a state in which he would be externally unresponsive but still in severe pain from the cisatracurium:
What cisatracurium doesn’t do is diminish consciousness or dull pain. That, in theory, is what the midazolam and fentanyl are for. Under medical supervision and by way of long-established surgical protocols, cisatracurium is safe, even helpful. But it’s possible an execution subject dosed with the stuff in an untested cocktail would exhibit no outward signs of pain or agony caused either by the administration of other drugs, or by the suffocation brought on by a collapsed diaphragm. To an outside observer, they might appear totally calm as they suffocated, painfully, to death.
According to CBS News, Dozier is convicted of murdering 22-year-old Jeremiah Miller at a Las Vegas motel in 2002 and dismembering his corpse, as well as killing and mutilating alleged 26-year-old “drug-trade associate” Jasen Greene the same year. While he’s dropped appeals to his death sentence, calling it preferable to life in prison, he allowed federal public defenders to try and stop the use of an untested execution protocol.
As the New Yorker reported in 2016, numerous drug companies including Pfizer, its former subsidiary Hospira, and wholesalers have refused to allow their drugs to be used in lethal injections in recent years, leading states to pursue unorthodox methods of obtaining the necessary chemicals. In 2013, Georgia passed the Lethal Injection Secrecy Act, which treats the names of drugmakers and suppliers whose products are used in executions as state secrets.
Use of the death penalty has declined nationwide for decades, per Business Insider. Some 31 states still have the death penalty, though only a handful of states still regularly execute prisoners. Officials in some states have advocated bringing back death by firing squad as a response to the diminishing supplies of authorized lethal injection drugs, such as Utah, which lifted an 11-year ban on firing squads in 2015 but has not used the option since 2010. Other states like Mississippi have considered bringing back gas chambers and the electric chair. Earlier this year, Oklahoma said it would begin using nitrogen gas, which causes “complete inability to move, loss of consciousness, convulsions, and eventually death” when oxygen levels dip below 10 percent.