A Nevada judge halted an execution scheduled for 8pm local time on Wednesday after the pharmaceutical company Alvogen filed suit alleging the state illegally obtained its sedative midazolam—which has been part of multiple previous botched executions in other states and was one of three drugs Nevada planned to include in a cocktail that's never been used for lethal injection in the United States.
Alvogen's complaint, filed Tuesday, pointed out that "past attempts by other states to use the medicine in lethal injections have been extremely controversial, and have led to widespread concern that prisoners have been exposed to cruel and unusual treatment." The company alleged Nevada purchased the drug "by subterfuge with the undisclosed and improper intent to use it for the upcoming execution in complete disregard of plaintiff's rights."
While Assistant Solicitor General Jordan Smith claimed the company's "whole action is just PR damage control" and reportedly argued that Clark County District Court Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez had "no authority to stay the execution," the judge issued a temporary restraining order that bars the state from using midazolam and set another hearing for September 10, effectively delaying the execution of 47-year-old Scott Raymond Dozier.
The condemned man was sentenced to death in 2007 for a first-degree murder conviction in Nevada following a previous second-degree murder conviction in Arizona. Although Dozier waived his appeals in 2016 and told reporters he wishes to be put to death rather than held in prison, human rights advocates have not wavered in opposing plans for his execution.
Noting that "eyewitness accounts of recent executions using midazolam are full of grizzly details," ACLU Nevada's legal director Amy Rose wrote in a blog post on Wednesday. "It is deeply troubling that Nevada government officials are barreling ahead with execution when the chances of torturing Dozier are so high."
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"These executions are not justice—they are inhumane and unacceptable," Rose added. "Capital punishment is an intolerable denial of civil liberties and is inconsistent with the fundamental values of our democratic system. A government that would risk torturing someone to death is not dispensing justice or serving the public good."
The "risky combination of drugs" Nevada planned to used to kill Dozier also included the painkiller fentanyl and the paralytic cisatracurium.
"A second pharmaceutical company, Sandoz, also raised objections at Wednesday's hearing to the use of one of its drugs—the muscle-paralyzing substance cisatracurium—in Dozier's execution. But the company did not immediately ask to formally join Alvogen's lawsuit," The Associated Press reported. "A third company, Pfizer, last year demanded Nevada return the third drug intended for use in the execution, the powerful opioid fentanyl. But the state refused."
Alvogen's lawsuit is only the second time a drug company has tried to halt an execution over the use of its products, the AP noted, citing Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. The first attempt—by a different company in Arkansas—failed last year.
Nathan O'Neal of KSNV News 3, an NBC affiliate, and Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter David Ferrara said on Twitter Wednesday that Smith plans to file an emergency appeal with Nevada's Supreme Court to force the execution to proceed, but the high court has not yet received the filing.