Attorneys in Arizona and Kentucky joined a lawyer in Georgia on Tuesday, calling on the Justice Department to investigate how the states acquired a key lethal injection drug that is in short supply in the U.S.
The requests come as many of the 34 death penalty states scrambling to find an alternative for lethal injections after the sole U.S. maker of sodium thiopental said earlier this year it would no longer produce it.
Justice Department officials didn't immediately return telephone calls Tuesday, but previously have said they were reviewing a request for an investigation an attorney in Georgia. Drug Enforcement Administration officials confirmed a week ago they had seized Georgia's supply of the drug.
Meanwhile, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said the state was still trying to get sodium thiopental from other states, but officials may have no choice but to switch to another drug, which would be probably be pentobarbital.
"We're still looking into using this other substance (sodium thiopental), but we aren't really confident that we're going to get some," he said.
Texas and Oklahoma recently announced the switch to pentobarbital, and plan to use it along with two other drugs. Ohio became the first state to use pentobarbital alone when it executed an inmate with the drug March 10.
Kentucky public defender David Barron said in a letter to the Justice Department that there were multiple questions about how CorrectHealth, a Stockbridge, Ga.-based company, got a supply of sodium thiopental to sell to Kentucky. Barron also wants to know if Kentucky officials complied with federal law when it contacted Kayem Pharmaceuticals in India.
Barron represents Ralph Baze, who was sentenced to death for killing a sheriff and a deputy.
"It is likely that illegally imported or possessed thiopental will be used in the execution of Mr. Baze and multiple other individuals on Kentucky's death row," Barron wrote.
Kentucky bought 18 grams of sodium thiopental _ enough for three executions _ in February from CorrectHealth, which is owned by Dr. Carlo Musso, who assisted Georgia in conducting executions. Musso didn't immediately return a telephone message but has previously denied selling the drug.
Eight days after getting the drug from the Georgia company, Kentucky officials contacted Kayem Pharmaceuticals in India, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. But the state opted not to buy the drug because it is sold in packs of 500 single-gram vials for about $5,000, which is more than the state needs.
"It would require us to alter our normal procurement process and would require Kentucky to obtain enough thiopental for more than 80 executions _ a quantity which would expire long before it could be utilized," Kentucky Justice Cabinet spokeswoman Jennifer Brislin said.
Executions in Kentucky are on hold after a judge in September found problems with the state's protocol, a decision unrelated to the drug shortage.
In Arizona, federal public defender Dale Baich called for the Justice Department probe because the state bought supplies of sodium thiopental from Dream Pharma, a British company that some defense attorneys have described as a fly-by-night operation.
"We believe the state did not comply with all the DEA regulations in obtaining the drugs," Baich said Tuesday.
A message left for the Arizona Department of Corrections was not immediately returned.
Multiple states, including Arkansas, California, Georgia and Tennessee, have looked overseas for a supply of sodium thiopental, a fast-acting sedative that is commonly the first drug used in a lethal injection. Hospira, Inc., of Lake Forest, Ill., the primary maker of the narcotic in the United States, stopped making the drug earlier this year.
Associated Press writer Holbrook Mohr in Jackson, Miss., contributed to this report.