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Nebraska Governor Stops Efforts To Import Execution Drugs

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Friday that the state will hold no executions and will stop attempting to secure execution drugs until after a referendum vote on a death penalty repeal measure is held in 2016.

Posted on December 5, 2015, at 12:00 a.m. ET

Nati Harnik / AP

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts

WASHINGTON —Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts announced late Friday that the state will not make additional attempts to import drugs for use in executions for the time being — a move that follows months of reporting by BuzzFeed News about the state's unsuccessful efforts to do so.

Ricketts also said the state will not carry out any executions until a referendum vote is held in 2016 on a measure abolishing the death penalty that was passed by the legislature over Ricketts's veto. Ricketts and his father contributed a significant amount of the funding for the initial referendum signature drive effort after the legislature overrode his veto.

However, on Friday, Ricketts sounded a more conciliatory tone.

"In November 2016, Nebraska voters will determine the future of capital punishment in our state at the ballot box. To give deference to the vote of the people, my administration will wait to carry out capital punishment sentences or make additional efforts to acquire drugs until the people of our state decide this issue," Ricketts said in a statement.

He also noted that he has "stepped up conversations" with the state's attorney general, Doug Peterson, and corrections head Scott Frakes "regarding a comprehensive review of the capital punishment protocols used in other states."

The spokesperson for the group fighting to keep the death penalty repeal on the books, Nebraskans for Public Safety, said the move was good news for their effort.

"Governor Ricketts’ decision to immediately stop all attempts to illegally obtain execution drugs is an admission that the death penalty in Nebraska is broken beyond repair," Dan Parsons said in a statement.

In June, BuzzFeed News reported that Nebraska officials had purchased enough sodium thiopental from a salesman in India, Chris Harris, to be used in 300 executions.

The Food and Drug Administration, however, said it would seize the drugs if Nebraska attempted to import them. Under a 2012 federal court order, the FDA is barred from allowing importation of sodium thiopental that is "misbranded" or an unapproved new drug. Because there are no approved applications for sodium thiopental today, the FDA has told states that any importation would be barred because it would be an unapproved new drug.

Nonetheless, Nebraska tried to import the drug anyway, and in mid-September, BuzzFeed News reported that FedEx stopped the shipment before it even made it out of India.

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