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NEW THIS MORNING: Drug seizure halts Georgia executions

FILE - This November 2005 file photo shows the death chamber at the Southern Ohio Corrections Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. The sole U.S. manufacturer of a key lethal injection drug said Friday, Jan. 21, 2011 that it is ending production because of death-penalty opposition overseas _ a move that could delay executions across the United States. The current shortage of the drug in the U.S. has delayed or disrupted executions in Arizona, California, Kentucky, Ohio and Oklahoma. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)

FILE - This November 2005 file photo shows the death chamber at the Southern Ohio Corrections Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. The sole U.S. manufacturer of a key lethal injection drug said Friday, Jan. 21, 2011 that it is ending production because of death-penalty opposition overseas _ a move that could delay executions across the United States. The current shortage of the drug in the U.S. has delayed or disrupted executions in Arizona, California, Kentucky, Ohio and Oklahoma. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)

The Drug Enforcement Administration has seized Georgia's supply of a key execution drug over questions about how it was imported to the United States.

"Drugs were seized today by the DEA from our facility in Jackson," Department of Corrections spokeswoman Kristen Stancil told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

The seizure comes more than two weeks after an attorney representing a death row inmate from Cobb County wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder saying the Georgia Department of Corrections circumvented federal law in trying to quickly secure a scarce drug used in lethal injections.

"DEA did take control of the controlled substances today," DEA spokesman Chuvalo Truesdell told the AJC. "There were questions about the way the drugs were imported over here."

Truesdell declined further comment, saying it is now "a regulatory investigation."

John Bentivoglio, a former associate deputy U.S. attorney general in Washington, described extraordinary steps the DOC took to get the sedative thiopental, a scheduled III non-narcotic controlled substance, when a shipment for several states, including Georgia, was held by U.S. Customs in Memphis last summer.

The letter said Corrections is not registered with the federal government to import drugs and the agency did not "submit a declaration to the Drug Enforcement Administration when GDC imported thiopental last year.

Stancil told the AJC after the letter was mailed, the agency asked the DEA for assistance "to make sure that the department was in compliance with the way we handled controlled substances."

Like many states that execute criminals, Georgia uses a three-drug cocktail. The first one is a sedative. The second drug paralyzes the inmate. The third drug stops the heart.

But thiopental, the sedative, has been in short supply nationwide because companies in this country and abroad have refused to provide it if it is going to be used in an execution. Several states have had to delay executions because the drugs they have in stock had expired. In Georgia, that same concern has been raised in two scheduled executions, the death of Emmanuel Hammond Jan. 25 and the delayed execution of Roy Willard Blankenship in February.

No more execution dates in Georgia have been scheduled and it's unlikely any will be set before the issue is resolved, the Associated Press reported.