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APNewsBreak: Calif. scrambled for execution drug

Wed, 12/08/2010 - 10:45pm
PAUL ELIAS - Associated Press - Associated Press

California prison officials went on a frantic two-month search for a lethal drug needed to carry out the state's first execution in five years, which ultimately was called off, documents released late Wednesday showed.

The officials traded lethal injection drugs with their counterparts in Arizona, were snubbed by well-stocked Texas and scoured the globe from Pakistan to London for the drug in short supply.

The intensive search ultimately failed when the planned Sept. 30 execution was canceled in part because of a shortage of sodium thiopental.

The state's only supply of the drug on hand expired on Oct. 1 and resolving legal challenges brought by condemned inmate Albert Greenwood Brown would delay his execution beyond that date, leaving the state Attorney General's office no choice but to halt its attempts to proceed with the execution.

The office said the state won't schedule any more executions until a federal lawsuit claiming the state's lethal injection process is unconstitutional is resolved.

The documents were obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union and posted on its Northern California chapter's website late Wednesday.

The nearly 1,000 pages of mostly internal e-mails show California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials scrambling to find a new supplier beginning in August after the lone U.S. manufacturer experienced production problems that prevented delivery of fresh supplies until next year.

The problems at Hospira Inc. have led to a nationwide shortage of the drug in nearly every state that carries out lethal injections, except in Texas.

The e-mails show that California prison officials complained about a well-stocked Texas prison system's apparent refusal to loan them any sodium thiopental.

They called nearly 100 hospitals and considered a supplier in Pakistan until acquiring 521 grams of the drug manufactured by Archimedes Pharma of Great Britain. The department still hasn't received the shipment, which is being held on the East Coast awaiting clearance from the Food and Drug Administration, spokeswoman Terry Thornton said.

Thornton said Wednesday night that the documents highlight the department's determination to carry out the execution of Brown, who was convicted in Riverside County of raping and killing a high school student and then taunting her mother.

"We have always said we were actively seeking a new supply of sodium thiopental," Thornton said.

The department managed to scrounge eight grams of the drug on Aug. 24 from a supplier not identified in the documents.

"It is enough to do one execution," CDCR Undersecretary Scott Kernan told Department Secretary Matt Cade in an e-mail. "Bad news is drug expires in Oct."

The documents also show the California prison officials receiving 12 grams of the drug from Arizona on Sept. 29, mere hours after the state Attorney General's office notified the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that it was quitting its legal fight to execute Brown because of an adverse court ruling connected to the expiration date of the sodium thiopental on hand.

"You guys in AZ are life savers," Kernan e-mailed Charles Flanagan, Arizona Department of Corrections deputy director. "Buy you a beer next time I get that way."

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