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Sen. Ernie Chambers makes last-ditch effort to head off Moore execution

By Paul Hammel World-Herald BureauJuly 30, 2018

LINCOLN — The state’s leading opponent of capital punishment is making a last-ditch effort to stop Nebraska’s planned Aug. 14 execution.

State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, in a letter, is asking pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to take legal action to force the return of lethal injection drugs expected to be used in the execution of double-murderer Carey Dean Moore.

Chambers also urged state officials to comply with Pfizer’s October 2017 demand that Nebraska voluntarily return the drugs — a plea that reportedly has been ignored by the state.

The senator called on the company to follow the recent example of another drug manufacturer and go to court to force the return of the lethal injection drugs.

“There is something (Pfizer) can do to protect their reputation, their name and the integrity of their products. ... The doors of the court are open to them,” Chambers said in an interview as he was drafting the letter on Friday.

“If they don’t do anything, it calls into question their sincerity and their principles and values,” he said.

A Pfizer spokesman, when reached Friday, said the company has done all it plans to do to get its products back.

“We’ve asked for it and we haven’t gotten it back,” spokesman Steven Danehy said. “We’re not going to go any further than that.”

Earlier this month, an execution in Nevada was temporarily postponed when another pharmaceutical company, Alvogen, filed a lawsuit against the State of Nevada. The lawsuit claimed that Alvogen was duped into providing a drug that was to be used in a July 11 execution.

Alvogen, like Pfizer, has a policy banning the use of its products in executions.

In October, Pfizer sent a letter to Nebraska corrections officials demanding the return of drugs if they were to be used in a lethal injection. The company makes three of the four drugs — diazepam, fentanyl citrate and potassium chloride — planned to be used in the Aug. 14 execution.

But the plea fell on deaf ears.

Danehy said that to his knowledge, Nebraska hadn’t returned any of the drugs, even though Pfizer offered to refund the purchase price.

Officials with the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services and the office of Gov. Pete Ricketts have declined to say if the state obtained any drugs from Pfizer. The officials have declined to reveal the source of the drugs scheduled to be used, which has prompted lawsuits by the ACLU of Nebraska as well as Nebraska news media.

A national authority on capital punishment, Robert Dunham of the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, said Pfizer typically doesn’t send “demand” letters unless it suspects that a state has obtained drugs manufactured by it.

Sandoz, the maker of a fourth drug to be used in the Nebraska execution, cisatracurium besylate, also has indicated that it does not want its product used in lethal injections. But it, like Pfizer, has not taken its objections to court.

The stances of the pharmaceutical companies — that their products not be used to end a life — have been among the hurdles faced by states in obtaining the drugs needed to carry out a lethal injection execution.

Moore has said he no longer wants to fight the state’s efforts to execute him. Some observers have said that a lawsuit from a pharmaceutical company may be one of the few remaining options to block the execution.

If the execution goes forward, it would mark the first lethal injection in Nebraska and the state’s first use of capital punishment in 21 years.

Chambers, in his two-page letter to Pfizer, quoted Shakespeare and suggested that the company may be trying to “have it both ways” by asking for the drugs’ return but not taking legal action, as Alvogen did, to force it to happen.

“Does Pfizer’s desire to protect its integrity, good name and public image rise to the level of Alvogen’s?” Chambers wrote in his letter. “Actions speak louder than words, says the popular axiom.”

The four-drug protocol Nebraska plans to use has never been used in an execution in the U.S.

Knowing the source of the drugs, and their purity, is important in avoiding unnecessary pain and suffering of the condemned or a botched execution, ACLU officials have said. The civil rights group has cited Nebraska’s past problems in obtaining lethal injection drugs from reputable sources. In one instance, Nebraska paid $54,000 to a broker in India for lethal injection drugs and never received the drugs, or a refund.

A recent World-Herald story revealed that the same distributor that provided lethal injection drugs to the State of Nevada also has a contract with the State of Nebraska to supply pharmaceuticals.

Officials with Cardinal Health have declined to say if it is the distributor providing Nebraska its supply of lethal injection drugs.

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