By Christopher Burbach
OMAHA, Neb (Reuters) - Controversy over a lethal injection drug imported from India has put on hold the execution of a convicted killer in Nebraska.
Carey Dean Moore had been scheduled to be executed June 14 in Lincoln, where he has been on the state's death row for more than 30 years. But the Nebraska Supreme Court issued a stay of execution Wednesday until an appeal by Moore can be heard.
That appeal, pending before the Douglas County District Court in Omaha, is based in large part on questions raised by Moore's attorney about one of three drugs the state planned to use in Moore's lethal injection.
Nebraska prison officials had purchased that drug, sodium thiopental, from a company in Mumbai after being unable to find a domestic supplier.
Moore's attorney, Jerry Soucie of Lincoln, argued that the company, Kayem Pharmaceutical Pvt., Ltd., is not approved or regulated by the U.S. government, thus the sodium thiopental could be faulty and lead to a botched execution.
"First and foremost is the fact that this company has never been registered or inspected by any U.S. government agency, including the Drug Enforcement Agency or the Food and Drug Administration," Soucie said. "That (registration and inspection) is a requirement of U.S. law."
Moore had been convicted of the 1979 execution-style slayings of two Omaha cab drivers, Reuel Van Ness Jr. and Maynard Helgeland. Both were 47.
A spokeswoman for the Nebraska State Attorney General's Office issued a statement Thursday saying only that its attorneys are reviewing their options.
In written arguments, J. Kirk Brown, the office's solicitor general, had contended that the legal question raised by Moore's arguments did not call into question the constitutionality of Moore's convictions.
Moore "offers nothing more than rank speculation that the sodium thiopental in the possession of the (Nebraska Department of Correctional Services) is not capable of performing the function for which it is intended," Brown wrote.
Moore's appeal also argues the state does not have the right to change his method of execution from the electric chair to lethal injection. The state did so after the Nebraska Legislature changed the state's method of execution in 2009.
There is no timetable on the stay of execution. Prosecutors plan to contend the Douglas County District does not have jurisdiction on the sodium thiopental question. The matter could head to the Nebraska Supreme Court.
Stocks of sodium thiopental, which renders the prisoner unconscious, have become scarce in the United States, and efforts to buy it from overseas or substitute a different drug for it have stirred controversy in other capital punishment cases.
(Editing by Jerry Norton)