Nate Jenkins / AP

Nebraska has ordered all drugs needed for executions

Governor’s announcement of purchase comes a day before Nebraska lawmakers are to debate a death penalty repeal measure

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said Thursday evening that state officials have bought all three drugs required to carry out executions.

Nebraska, which hasn't imposed the death penalty since 1997, has been unable to execute prisoners since December 2013, when its supply of sodium thiopental, a required lethal injection drug, expired.

The announcement comes one day before lawmakers are scheduled to debate a death penalty repeal measure that has gained more support than usual. The bill won first-round approval with a veto-proof majority in April, but two more votes are required before it goes to Ricketts, a death-penalty supporter.

Some opponents have argued that Nebraska should abolish capital punishment because it has only wasted money and created a false promise for victims' families. The state hasn't executed anyone since 1997, and some prisoners have been on death row for decades.

Nebraska has only carried out four executions since 1973, partly because of repeated legal challenges.

Ricketts and his corrections director, Scott Frakes, said the state now possesses one of the three lethal injection drugs that state law requires for executions and will receive the other two in the near future. Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson has said three of Nebraska's 11 death-row inmates have exhausted all of their appeals.

"The functionality of the death penalty in Nebraska has been a management issue that I have promised to resolve," Ricketts said.

Ricketts said the department has already obtained potassium chloride, a drug that stops the heart, and has bought the other two drugs — sodium thiopental and pancuronium bromide — from a distributor in India. Sodium thiopental serves as an anesthetic, and pancuronium bromide is a muscle relaxant that induces paralysis.

Ricketts spokesman Taylor Gage said the state ordered the drugs over the past few weeks from HarrisPharma, a distributor that has sold to state officials before. The last purchase was made this week.

Defense attorneys for Nebraska's death-row inmates have raised legal questions about the company before, according to Omaha.com.

When the state announced in 2011 that it had obtained two samples of sodium thiopental from Chris Harris, who is CEO of HarrisPharma, the CEO of the Swiss company that made the drug and provided it to Harris, asked Nebraska officials to return it, saing the company never intended it to be used in executions, Omaha.com reported.

Sodium thiopental is difficult to obtain because U.S. manufacturers no longer make it and many foreign suppliers have banned its use for executions.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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