Neb. AG defends purchase of lethal injection drug

AP News
Posted: Jan 09, 2012 5:11 PM
Neb. AG defends purchase of lethal injection drug

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning produced documents Monday that he said contradicted claims that state officials had been conned into buying stolen doses of an execution drug.

The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services announced in November that it had obtained sodium thiopental, one of three drugs needed to carry out executions by lethal injection, from Swiss company Naari AG. The drug is no longer manufactured in the United States and is in scarce supply worldwide.

The state plans to use the drug to execute Michael Ryan for a 1985 slaying. But Ryan's attorney claims the doses Nebraska recently bought were supposed to be used only for "test and evaluation" as an anesthetic in Zambia and not sold.

Bruning said the documents the emails and financial statements released Monday show the Indian drug broker, Harris Pharma LLP, bought the drug from Swiss manufacturer Naari and then sold doses to Nebraska.

Naari's chief executive Prithi Kochhar previously sent Bruning a letter saying the doses were free samples provided for tests in Zambia and "wrongfully diverted." Kochhar said Naari would never support use of the drug in executions.

Messages for Naari's spokesman weren't returned Monday. A spokesman for Harris Pharma's office in Steuben, Maine, declined to comment and referred calls to chief executive Chris Harris in India. Calls and emails to Harris were not immediately returned.

Ryan's lawyer, Jerry Soucie, declined to comment Monday, saying he had not yet seen the attorney general's court filing that included the documents. Soucie has previously said Bruning advised the corrections department on how to acquire the drug.

Bruning said Monday that Kochhar's claims that Nebraska's purchase was illegal were baseless, and he accused Soucie of creating a "circus sideshow."

"This is one of the most brutal murders in the history of the state and frankly there are many Nebraskans _ myself among them _ who wonder if anesthetic is appropriate for a murderer Michael Ryan," Bruning said. "Michael Ryan is very fortunate that the people of this state, in their process, decided to use anesthetic. Certainly, his victim was not anesthetized."

He added, "I think it's outrageous that the conversation continues to be about the method of execution as opposed to the brutal murders committed by Michael Ryan and Carey Dean Moore," another death-row inmate.

Ryan was sentenced to death for torturing and killing James Thimm at a farm near Rulo in 1985. Moore was convicted of murder for killing cab drivers Maynard Helgeland and Reuel Eugene Van Ness in 1979.

Bruning has a pending request before the Nebraska Supreme Court to set an execution date for Ryan.

Nebraska's $5,411 purchase of sodium thiopental marked the second time it has gone to India to obtain the drug.

In January 2011, the Correctional Services Department announced it had obtained 500 grams of sodium thiopental from an Indian company, clearing the way for Nebraska's first execution by lethal injection. But questions soon arose about the legality of the purchase by Nebraska and other states, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency seized stockpiles of the drug from several states, including Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee.

The DEA declined to say then whether Nebraska's purchase was under investigation, but state officials sought a new supplier anyway.