Attorney General Jon Bruning's office asked the Nebraska Supreme Court on Tuesday to reject a motion from death-row inmate Michal Ryan to withdraw his execution warrant.
Jerry Soucie of the Nebraska Commission of Public Advocacy asked the court to withdraw Ryan's March 6 execution warrant until Richardson County District Judge Daniel Bryan Jr. rules on Ryan's latest appeal, which argues that he was sentenced to die in the electric chair, which the state no longer uses.
Nebraska switched its method of execution to lethal injection after a 2008 ruling from the state Supreme Court that said the electric chair amounted to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment. At the time, Nebraska was the only state with electrocution as its sole means of execution.
Soucie has said the sodium thiopental Nebraska bought to use in lethal execution was meant to be used for test and evaluation purposes in Zambia and was not supposed to be sold.
He also has asked that Ryan's death sentence be reduced to life without parole.
Ryan was convicted in the cult-related 1985 killings of James Thimm, 26, and Luke Stice, 5, near Rulo. He was sentenced to death for Thimm's murder.
In Tuesday's filing, Solicitor General J. Kirk Brown said: "None of Ryan's alleged grounds for relief challenge the state or federal constitutional validity of the sentence imposed for Ryan's crime.
"As this court has repeatedly held: 'Nebraska's statutes specifying ... the mode of inflicting the death penalty are separate, and severable, from the procedures by which the trial court sentences the defendant.'"
Late last year, Nebraska prison officials said they bought sodium thiopental made by Naari, a pharmaceutical company headquartered in Switzerland. The news release did not mention that the drug was purchased by a middleman named Chris Harris, who then sold it to the state.
"If the state's position is that it is permissible for the Nebraska Supreme Court to direct an execution be conducted using stolen thiopental, then they should be up front about it," Soucie said in a response to Brown's Tuesday filing. "Let them make that claim on the merits in a brief or at oral argument where Ryan can respond. However, Ryan does not believe this court should implicitly allow such a result in proceeding for a stay of execution."
Sodium thiopental has been in short supply since 2010, when the only U.S. manufacturer, Hospira Inc., ended production because of death-penalty opposition from overseas customers. Nebraska is among 10 states that have purchased the drug from foreign sources, but the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has seized supplies from several states because they were imported illegally or because of questions over how they were manufactured.
(source: Journal Star)