Nebraska governor reverses efforts to import lethal injection drugs

by Elizabeth A. Elliott

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Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Dec. 4 the state will no longer try to import drugs to carry out lethal injections, instead opting to review potential protocol changes to capital punishment.

On May 20, Nebraska became the 19th state to abolish the death penalty. The bill passed with a 32-15 vote, but was vetoed by Ricketts May 26. The next day, after debating for two and a half hours, legislators overrode the veto with a 30-19 vote. Since May, Ricketts has said he would continue to try and import the drugs needed to carry out lethal injection. 

That has changed. In a statement on the governor’s website, Ricketts said, “To give deference to the vote of the people, my administration will wait to carry out capital punishment sentences or make additional efforts to acquire drugs until the people of our state decide the issue.”

The referendum to repeal a law that abolished the death penalty in Nebraska passed with enough approved signatures and is on the ballot during the 2016 general election on Nov. 8. Over 65,000 signatures were verified, meeting the 56,942 threshold to get the issue on the ballot according to the Omaha World-Herald. Ricketts added that he stepped up conversations with the Attorney General and Corrections Director to review protocols in other states.

According to the Omaha World-Herald, Ricketts announcement came on the day Nebraska’s U.S. attorney Deborah Gilg told the newspaper that importing sodium thiopental, a drug no longer approved for use in the U.S., would violate federal law. The state was unable to import two lethal injection drugs purchased from a broker in India, according to the article. Ricketts said as late as October they were working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to import the drugs, according to the Omaha World-Herald

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