LAS VEGAS — Fifteen states, including Arkansas, are siding with Nevada in a state Supreme Court fight against drug companies suing to prevent the use of their products to execute a condemned inmate.
In what a national death penalty expert on Tuesday called a setup for a showdown, documents filed with the Nevada Supreme Court argue that drug company Alvogen’s effort to block the use of its sedative midazolam in the stalled execution of Scott Raymond Dozier in Nevada is part of a “guerrilla war against the death penalty.”
“The families of these victims deserve justice,” Arkansas’ state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in a statement Tuesday. Arkansas is leading the 15 states that include Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.
“If Alvogen is allowed to succeed,” the Monday friend of the court filing said, “there is a substantial risk that pharmaceutical companies — prodded by anti-death penalty activists and (defense attorneys) — will flood the courts with similar last-minute filings every time a state attempts to see justice done.”
The states’ brief points to an Arkansas Supreme Court decision that overruled a state court judge and allowed executions to go forward in what the states now argue is a nearly identical case involving the drug company McKesson Medical-Surgical and stocks of its drug vecuronium bromide. At the time, Arkansas was on track to execute eight men in an 11-day span. It ultimately put four men to death over eight days.
Alvogen in Nevada, like McKesson in Arkansas, argues that it doesn’t want its drugs used in executions and that prison officials improperly obtained its products for a lethal injection.
Hikma Pharmaceuticals USA, a maker of the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, has joined Alvogen in a bid to stop the use of its product as the second of three drugs in a lethal combination never before tried in any state.
That was over a Nevada state attorney’s objection that it was ironic the maker of a drug blamed for illegal overdoses every day was claiming its reputation would be hurt by being associated with a lawful execution.
A judge in Las Vegas who is due to hear arguments Sept. 10 is expected to decide Thursday whether Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, maker of the third drug, the muscle paralyzing drug cisatracurium, can join Alvogen and Hikma in the Nevada case.
That could pit at least three prominent pharmaceutical firms in a Nevada court against more than half the 31 states in the U.S. with the death penalty.
“I think states are attempting to make this a showdown,” said Robert Dunham, director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.
Nevada, which hasn’t executed an inmate since 2006, has become a model of the trouble that death penalty states have had in recent years obtaining drugs for lethal injections.
Dunham characterized the states backing Nevada as, “for the most part a gathering of states that have engaged in the most questionable practices in efforts to obtain execution drugs.”
A judge blocked Dozier’s execution just hours before it was scheduled in July so she could hear Alvogen’s claim that Nevada improperly obtained midazolam.
Nevada state Attorney General Adam Laxalt has asked the state Supreme Court to quickly overrule the judge so that Dozier’s twice-postponed lethal injection can be put back on track for mid-November.
Dozier, 47, is a twice-convicted killer for drug-related slayings in 2002 in Phoenix and Las Vegas. He has not responded to email and messages through his attorney from The Associated Press.
He told the Reno Gazette Journal for a Monday report that he wants the sentence he received in 2007 carried out rather than spend life in prison. He called the uncertainty of his fate “torture.”
Associated Press writers Michelle L. Price in Las Vegas and Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Arkansas, contributed to this report.