SIOUX FALLS - South Dakota's purchase of a lethal injection drug from overseas last month might further delay the execution of a man who raped and killed a 9-year-old Sioux Falls girl in 1990.
Recent court filings in an appeal from death row inmate Donald Moeller question the quality of the sodium thiopental South Dakota bought from a company in India, the Argus Leader reported in a story published Wednesday. The state intends to use the drug as part of a three-drug injection cocktail in Moeller's execution.
A similar appeal scuttled the scheduled execution of Nebraska death row inmate Carey Dean Moore, when that state's Supreme Court issued a stay of execution last week. Moore, convicted of killing two cab drivers execution-style in 1979, had been set to die June 14.
South Dakota purchased $5,000 worth of the drug from the Indian company after Hospira, the sole U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental, decided to stop making it. State Attorney General Marty Jackley confirmed this week that the drug came from Kayem Pharmaceuticals, a company based in Mumbai, India. Nebraska and South Dakota are the only two states to have turned to India for a backup drug supply.
Jackley said he thinks the quality and reliability of South Dakota's batch will stand up to scrutiny.
''The drug has been independently tested by a United States lab and confirmed to meet U.S. drug standards,'' he said.
Moeller's original complaint challenged the constitutionality of South Dakota's lethal injection procedure, which Jackley said adheres to the constitutional standard set by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.
The issue of using imported drugs is a new twist on the argument that lethal injection represents cruel and unusual punishment, according to Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center.
''I think there are legitimate questions about these drugs that have come in,'' Dieter said. ''This is something that the courts will have to grapple with.''
Several states purchased stockpiles of the drug from Great Britain or Canada this year in anticipation of a shortage. Georgia's purchase ran afoul of the Drug Enforcement Administration, which seized that state's stash of English sodium thiopental over questions about the drug's origins.
Representatives from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's office will address the concerns of several attorneys general over lethal injection drugs during an upcoming conference call, Jackley said. South Dakota will be part of the discussion.
Moeller is first in line for the death penalty in South Dakota, and he has a separate appeal in the works alongside his argument about the constitutionality of lethal injection.
A three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit is to hear oral arguments in St. Paul, Minn., on June 16 in Moeller's appeal over jury instructions and DNA evidence at his second trial in the death of Becky O'Connell.