Nevada Judge Blocks State from Executing Man with Deadly Opioid Drug Fentanyl

Ben Keller

States looking for news ways to execute prisoners are turning to opioids like the powerful drug fentanyl.

Now, it's the first time a pharmaceutical company has stopped an execution.

At least temporarily.

Just hours before the State of Nevada was set to carry out the country's first lethal injection using the drug responsible for the nation's overdose death epidemic, a judge effectively put the execution of a two-time killer on hold.

Clark County District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez stopped the execution less than nine hours before Scott Raymond Dozier, 47, was set to be executed Wednesday using a three-drug cocktail including a muscle paralyzing drug cisatracurium, a sedative midazolam and fentanyl, a drug 100 times stronger than heroine.

Alvogen, the manufacturer of midazolam, sued to block its use in Dozier's execution, saying the state illegally obtained its drug by deceit about its intended use and the company did not want the drug to be utilized for capital punishment.

"[The company] does not condone the use of any of its drug products, including midazolam, for use in state-sponsored executions," Alvogen said in a statement.

The state's plan going into Wednesday was to inject Dozier with the three drugs: midazolam to sedate him, cisatracurium to paralyze his muscles, then fentanyl to render him unconscious and cause his death.

Medical experts warned Dozier could endure an excruciating, prolonged death because the midazolam would likely not render him fully unconscious and, when the fentanyl was injected, he would experience the sensation of suffocation, since fentanyl causes death by severely depressing the respiratory system.

Human-rights organizations fear prison officials in death penalty states will turn to the black market to obtain the drugs, which in turn would bolster drug trafficking networks at the same time authorities seek to crack down on them.

Todd Bice, an attorney representing Alvogen, said the state lied to obtain the company's drug by by not disclosing its intended use then having it shipped to a pharmacy located in Las Vegas rather than to the state prison located in Ely.

Attorney Todd Bice argues in front of Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez

Alvogen says this was done "to further the implication that the midazolam was for a legitimate medical purpose."

In April, the company sent a letter to state officials saying it opposes the use of its drugs in executions, particularly midazolam.

Judge Gonzalez ruled based on that letter saying the execution "will not take place until further notice."

Gonzalez granted a temporary restraining order blocking the state from using midazolam for its execution, saying the state would not proceed with the execution Wednesday if officials were barred from using midazolam.

It will have to find another drug if it wants to to execute Dozier.

"This ruling affirms that the makers of medicines have a right to decide how their products are used," Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, a London-based human-rights organization, told the New York Times.

"These lawsuits exposed how Nevada ignored drug-safety laws designed to protect the public and used subterfuge to undermine private contracts"

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada also called on the state to stop the execution, accusing it of an "egregious" lack of transparency.

Dozier was sentenced to 22 years in prison in 2005 for the shooting death of alleged drug dealer Jasen Greene, 26, whose body was found in a shallow grave in Phoenix in 2002.

A witness testified in court that Dozier used a sledgehammer to break Greene's limbs so his corpse could fit inside of a plastic storage container.

In 2007, Dozier was sentenced to death for robbing, killing then dismembering Jeremiah Miller, 22, inside a Las Vegas motel in 2002 where he came to buy ingredients for meth.

Miller's decapitated torso was found inside of a suit case.

Dozier says he would prefer to be executed rather than having to live life on death row.

"I don't want to die. I would just rather be dead than do this."

"Life in prison isn’t a life," he told the Las Vegas Review Journal earlier this week."This isn't living man. It's just surviving.

"If people say they are going to kill me, get to it."

Death Penalty Information Center Executive Director Robert Dunham said the state's use of fentanyl, the same drug states are criminalizing, is ironic.

Death Penalty Information Center Executive Director Robert Dunham said Nevada's desire to use Fentanyl is ironic.

"It's somewhat ironic that at the same time that the Justice Department and states are talking about how dangerous fentanyl is, and how it's created a national public health emergency, that states are now turning to it as a supposedly safe way of killing prisoners," he said.

The last time Nevada carried out an execution was in 2006.

Watch Dozier's recent interview about his execution with VICE news below.


Citizen Journalism