- - Friday, November 6, 2015

It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what someone does when they want to score illegal drugs. They search in the shadows for a source – an illicit dealer – and they operate in secrecy. God forbid they get caught.

This is precisely the scenario playing out with the state governments of Nebraska, Arizona, Ohio and Texas. They’re all desperately trying to import a drug called sodium thiopental to use for lethal injections in executions. However, it’s against the law for the chemical to enter the country.

Just recently came a report about the feds confiscating drugs headed for Texas and Arizona, while the governors of Ohio and Oklahoma delayed executions until the drug mess is sorted out.

But Nebraska’s new governor is a special case in point as he becomes an almost quixotic figure in his quest to kill. Gov. Pete Ricketts continues to insist that he is still “working with” federal authorities to obtain the necessary drugs to carry out the death penalty. This is in spite of the federal government repeatedly, and over a period of years, refusing Nebraska’s requests.

This past spring, on the eve of the overwhelmingly conservative Nebraska legislature casting an historic vote to repeal capital punishment, Mr. Ricketts made a last-ditch attempt to persuade his Republican colleagues to continue killing. In a dramatic 11th-hour announcement, he claimed the state had just bought the drugs needed to proceed with executions after 18 years of failure.

Mr. Ricketts boldly proclaimed he had “purchased the drugs that are necessary to carry out the death penalty in Nebraska in the near future.” He also insisted the state’s inability to get the drugs before he came to office was a “management issue,” blaming prior administrations. The governor, brand new to holding a public office, insisted he was the executive who could finally carry out death sentences.

Predictably, details of the purchase of the drugs were sketchy. The state paid $54,000 for 1,000 units - to be delivered at a later date – from a company based in India called Harris Pharma. It happened to be the exact same unauthorized supplier the previous Nebraska governor had tried to use in 2011.

As Mr. Ricketts continues to wait 5 months later for delivery of the drugs he paid for, it has now come to light that the operator of Harris Pharma, who cashed that $54,000 state check, has no pharmaceutical background. Further, the company apparently has no manufacturing capabilities, and it may have lied about how it acquired the drugs. The origin of the drugs is vital to determine quality and avoid botched executions from tainted sodium thiopental.

By any measure, Nebraska’s death penalty adventure under Pete Ricketts is a fiasco. Despite the governor’s grand attempt to resume executions, his Republican brethren voted to end the state’s failed death penalty and they did it based on rock-solid conservative principles of limited government, fiscal conservatism and a respect for life. When the thoughtful lawmakers overrode Mr. Ricketts‘ veto, the petulant rookie governor pitched a fit.

What’s evident to even casual observers is that even if his coveted death penalty drugs were to make it to Nebraska, they would merely become the focus of extended and costly litigation, wasting more time and tax dollars.

A government that buys drugs from an illegal source and then attempts to skirt the law is not the type of government that can be trusted to have the power to take a life; not when the rule of law is so easily ignored to try and achieve a particular goal. Government in America is supposed to be transparent and our leaders are expected to follow the law, not act like someone in a back alley trying to make a shady drug deal.


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