Nation's First-Ever Execution Using Fentanyl Halted

By Keri Blakinger 07/16/18

A New Jersey drug company filed a lawsuit claiming the state had tricked a drug distributor into selling one of the drugs to be used in the execution. 

Scott Dozier
Scott Dozier Photo via YouTube

What could have been the nation’s first-ever execution using fentanyl was called off Wednesday, after a New Jersey-based drug company filed suit over the planned use of one of its drugs in the Nevada death house.

After months of begging for death and waiving appeals, double murderer Scott Dozier was scheduled to die by lethal injection using an untested three-drug cocktail in what would have been the state’s first execution in more than a decade. 

"I think it's awesome. I mean, it's killing people all over the place," he told VICE News before his unwanted last-minute reprieve. "You guys get pharmaceutical grade fentanyl and just bang me up man."

But the courts intervened, after drugmaker Alvogen accused the state of using “subterfuge” to secure one of the drugs in spite of the company’s insistence that it didn’t want its product used in “botched” executions.

It appears to be the first time a pharmaceutical company has successfully stopped an execution, experts told the Associated Press

The challenge comes as death penalty states across the nation have struggled in finding ways to carry out their most severe punishment, sometimes switching methods or drugs as pharmaceutical companies become increasingly reluctant to see their drugs used in executions. 

The current Nevada execution protocol—newly implemented after previous drug stocks expired—includes the controversial sedative midazolam, the opioid fentanyl and the paralytic cisatracurium. Midazolam has been linked to allegedly botched executions in Ohio, Arkansas, Alabama and elsewhere.

In Tuesday’s lawsuit, Alvogen said the state had tricked drug distributor Cardinal Health into selling them midazolam by having it sent to a pharmacy in Las Vegas instead of to the prison, according to CBS News.

"While Alvogen takes no position on the death penalty itself,” the company wrote in court filings, “Alvogen's products were developed to save and improve patients' lives and their use in executions is fundamentally contrary to this purpose.”

A state solicitor general pushed back against the lawsuit, saying Nevada didn’t do anything wrong and regularly has its drugs shipped to Las Vegas. 

This wasn’t the first controversy Nevada faced over its execution drugs. Last year, Pfizer asked the state to return any drugs it planned using to kill prisoners—but prison officials refused. And this year, another pharmaceutical company voiced objections to the use of its drugs in lethal injections, though they didn’t take the step of filing a legal claim. 

Dozier’s death sentence stems from a 2002 slaying when he lured 22-year-old Jeremiah Miller to the Las Vegas strip in order to rob him of $12,000 that he planned to buy ephedrine with, one of the ingredients needed for making meth. After shooting Miller in the head, police say Dozier let him bleed out in a bathtub before dismembering him, stuffing his torso and some limbs into a suitcase, then tossing it in a dumpster. 

Afterward, Dozier’s friends started coming forward with tips about the case. One even told police he’d spotted a body holding its own head inside Dozier’s hotel room. A jailhouse snitch alleged that he’d helped Dozier bury a man in the middle of the Arizona desert in 2001—and he led investigators to a dismembered body. Dozier was convicted in the Copper State case before he was transferred back to Nevada to stand trial for the would-be meth-maker’s slaying.

While in jail for the Arizona murder—one in which he still maintains his innocence—Dozier tried killing himself by overdosing on antidepressants, which landed him in a coma for two weeks.

“I’m not looking for mercy,” he told the Marshall Project. “Nevada said stop behaving this way or we will kill you, and I kept behaving that way.”

So, in 2016, he penned a letter to the judge, waiving his appeals and begging for execution. So-called “volunteers” are a death row rarity, and Dozier’s gregarious pursuit of death attracted national attention. 

Now, it’s not clear when he might face another death date, though a Clark County judge this week scheduled a hearing for September.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.