(Reuters) - A condemned killer who had given up on any further appeals as he awaited execution in Nevada on Wednesday received an 11th-hour reprieve after a pharmaceutical company sued to block the use of one of its drugs in the lethal injection process.
Alvogen Inc, which said the Nevada Corrections Department had obtained the sedative midazolam illegitimately, won a court order barring it from being administered to Scott Dozier in the state’s newly devised and untested three-drug execution protocol.
Another judge formally issued an indefinite stay of the execution.
Alvogen was the second U.S. drugmaker since last year to take legal action against a state using one of its products to administer capital punishment, saying the brand would be tarnished by association with the process of putting people to death.
McKesson Corp unsuccessfully sued Arkansas in April 2017, seeking to stop its muscle relaxant, vecuronium bromide, from being included in the state’s lethal injection mix.
Executions in several states have been stymied by global drug companies’ opposition to supplying products for death sentences, and difficulties in finding effective replacements.
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.
But the ruling by Clark County District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez, and the stay that followed from Judge Jennifer Togliatti, left uncertain when his execution could proceed.
Gonzalez set a status check on the case for Sept. 10, court spokeswoman Mary Ann Price said. Corrections spokeswoman Brooke Santina said the execution would remain effectively postponed for at least that long.
In its lawsuit on Tuesday, privately held Alvogen said use of its product midazolam for an execution would cause “irreparable injury” to “its reputation and its goodwill.”
Nevada corrections officials revised their lethal injection protocol last week, saying they were switching to midazolam to replace expired prison supplies of another sedative, diazepam.
Midazolam, which the World Health Organization counts on its list of essential medicines, has nevertheless been implicated in a number of botched executions in other states.
The sedative aims to render the inmate unconscious before administration of the synthetic opioid fentanyl, and then the paralytic agent cisatracurium.
Dozier had already suspended any further appeals of his conviction or death sentence, according to court documents, and has said he can no longer bear life behind bars.
“Life in prison isn’t a life,” he was quoted as saying in a Las Vegas Review-Journal interview published on Sunday. “If people say they’re going to kill me, get to it.”
His lawyer, Thomas Ericsson, told the newspaper last week he knew of no outside entities that could step in and halt the execution.
Attorney Scott Coffee, a death penalty expert, was quoted as calling the Dozier case “state-assisted suicide.”
Dozier was convicted in 2007 of the murder of Jeremiah Miller, who was robbed and shot to death in 2002 after traveling to Las Vegas, where Dozier had promised to help him obtain drugs to make methamphetamine. Miller’s headless torso was later found stuffed in a suitcase in a trash bin, media said.
Dozier was also convicted in the 2005 murder of Jasen “Griffin” Green in Phoenix before the trial in Nevada.
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.
Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Peter Cooney and Clarence Fernandez