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Nebraska Seeks Death Drugs From India

OMAHA (CN) - The ACLU asked Nebraska's U.S. attorney to investigate state officials' attempts to import lethal injection drugs from India, though the state has outlawed the death penalty.

Nebraska's unicameral Legislature banned capital punishment on May 20 and overrode the governor's veto on May 27, becoming the 19th state to prohibit execution.

On Aug. 20, the ACLU of Nebraska wrote to U.S. Attorney Deborah R. Gilg, asking her to investigate "Nebraska's ongoing efforts to obtain lethal injection drugs from a foreign source."

The letter claims that Nebraska has tried or is trying to get sodium thiopental and pancuronium bromide, despite explicit knowledge and court orders that importation of foreign-made sodium thiopental is illegal.

The Omaha World-Herald reported that the state tried to get the drugs from India on July 31, for $54,400.

Sodium thiopental and pancuronium bromide are the first two drugs in typical three-drug combinations used for lethal injections.

The ACLU letter claims: "State officials have had direct contract with DEA officials informing them the products they seek to import cannot be brought into the U.S.," and that "Harris Pharma, the seller of the drugs, is the same company that provided illegal sodium thiopental to Nebraska in 2011."

ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Danielle Conrad said in a statement: "State officials have been told repeatedly by federal authorities that there is no legal way to import the drugs, yet they continue to repeat a suspect claim in various recent media reports that they are working with federal officials to secure the drugs. The facts don't add up. Nebraska taxpayers deserve a straight answer."

Nebraska last executed a prisoner in 1997, by electric chair. After large pharmaceutical companies stopped providing lethal injection drugs due to public pressure, some states resorted to buying them from compounding pharmacies. These purchases have been challenged in court.

Nebraska has been unable to obtain legal supplies of a three-drug cocktail it required to kill people after its old method was outlawed by the state's supreme court.

"The materials enclosed demonstrate a protracted effort of months to obtain illegal drugs despite clear and unequivocal notice that their conduct was prohibited by federal law," ACLU of Nebraska legal director Amy Miller wrote in the Aug. 20 letter.

"Given the state's concrete and active efforts to violate federal law, we request your office initiate an investigation."

Miller told the U.S. attorney that Nebraska sent Customs forms to Harris Pharma in India on July 31 this year. "It appears that despite all warnings from federal agencies, the state of Nebraska is continuing to move forward with their plan to have illegal drugs sent into the U.S.," Miller wrote.

After the Legislature overrode his veto, Republican Governor Pete Ricketts called it "a very dark day for public safety" and vowed to fight to reinstate the death penalty.

He has since insisted that he will continue to pursue a way to execute the 10 inmates on Nebraska's death row, despite the legislative ban.

Ricketts and his billionaire father, TD Ameritrade boss Joe Ricketts, are bankrolling a petition drive for a ballot initiative to reinstate the death penalty.

The World-Herald reported that the Ricketts father and son have donated more than $300,000 for the petition drive. They need valid signatures of at least 5 percent of registered voters by the end of August to qualify the measure for the ballot.

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