Nevada execution could be derailed by drug company’s lawsuit

Jeremiah Miller is shown in a portrait obtained through Clark County District Court's evidence vault. Miller was killed by Scott Dozier in 2002

The US state of Nevada postponed the execution by lethal injection of a murderer with the controversial opioid fentanyl on Wednesday, hours before he was due to die, US media reported.

Though Dozier doesn't oppose the execution, Nevada officials faced a late challenge from Alvogen, a pharmaceutical firm that said the state "illegitimately acquired" its drug, the sedative midazolam.

Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez of the Eight Judicial District Court issued a temporary restraining order halting the use of the drug after the company said Nevada obtained it through "subterfuge".

Last year, a pharmaceutical company sued the state of Arkansas over drugs used in its lethal injections, but was unsuccessful.

Dozier, 47, had been scheduled to be put to death at 8 p.m. (0300 GMT on Thursday) at a state prison in Ely, Nevada, about 245 miles (395 km) north of Las Vegas, in what would have been the state's first execution in 12 years. Last year, Dozier dropped his death penalty appeals and asked to be executed.

Dozier's death sentence was previously stayed last November at the state's request after a judge blocked the use of cisatracurium during the execution, only to be overruled by the state Supreme Court.

The first Nevada execution to use the synthetic opioid fentanyl could be stalled thanks to a lawsuit from a pharmaceutical company.

Gonzalez set a status check on the case for September 10, court spokeswoman Mary Ann Price said. Nevada did not originally plan to use midazolam in his execution, but officials said they had to switch to it after its supply of diazepam - a sedative better known as Valium - expired. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, eight states now have carried out executions using a single drug _ an anesthetic _ and six others plan to do so if necessary.

"Midazolam is not approved for use in such an application", the company has said.

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This is the second lawsuit of its kind in the USA from a pharmaceutical company, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which tracks data about the death penalty and has criticized the way capital punishment is administered in America.

In the Arizona case, Dozier was sentenced to 22 years in prison for the shooting and mauling of 26-year-old Jasen Greene, whose body was found in 2002 in a shallow grave outside Phoenix.

But he allowed lawyers previous year to challenge the three-drug method that Nevada planned to use, including the sedative diazepam, the potent opioid fentanyl and a muscle paralyzing drug called cisatracuriam. Under Nevada's new execution protocol, the inmate is next given fentanyl and then cisatracurium, one to slow his breathing, the other to stop it.

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the state of Nevada; the Nevada Department of Corrections, its director and medical examiner; and the execution's attending physician, who has not been identified. "It's extremely experimental. There is a very real risk of a botched execution".

The company filed a lawsuit asking the court to prevent the state of Nevada from using midazolam in "carrying out any capital punishment" and to order the Department of Corrections to return all its midazolam products. But the state refused.

"Life in prison isn't a life", the Army veteran and methamphetamine user and dealer told the Las Vegas Review-Journal recently. But the legal challenge filed by Alvogen is only the second of its kind in the US, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington D.C.

Dozier has said repeatedly he wants to die and doesn't care if it's painful.

In Nevada, the sedative is meant to render the inmate unconscious before the person is given the synthetic opioid fentanyl and then the paralytic agent cisatracurium. Miller had come to Nevada to buy ingredients to make meth.

In court hearings and letters, he said there is a limit to how much artwork and exercise a person can do in prison. In response, states including Ohio, Florida and Oklahoma have adopted or suggested new and untested drug combinations. Miller's torso was found inside of a suitcase dumped in a trash bin on West Flamingo Road.

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