The state attorney general's office said Tuesday that Arizona's supply of a drug used in lethal injections came from England, marking the first time a state has acknowledged obtaining sodium thiopental from an overseas source since a shortage of the drug started affecting executions in the U.S. this year.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Tim Nelson said the state revealed the drug's origins to let the public know it comes from a trustworthy source. However, he did not name the company that manufactured it.
"This drug came from a reputable place," he said. "There's all sorts of wild speculation that it came from a third-world country, and that's not accurate."
The execution of Jeffrey Landrigan had been scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday but it remained on hold after a federal judge issued a stay because of questions about the drug's origins.
Landrigan's lawyers are challenging the use of the English drug because it is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They contend he could be suffocated painfully if the sodium thiopental, one of three drugs in Arizona's lethal injection protocol, doesn't render him unconscious.
U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver on Monday ruled that was a legitimate concern and blocked the execution of Landrigan, who was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1989 strangulation and stabbing death of Chester Dyer of Phoenix.
The state says Silver's order should be lifted because the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that Food and Drug Administration approval isn't necessary for the drugs used in executions.
After the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to lift Silver's stay, the state filed a motion with the Supreme Court and was awaiting word on whether it can proceed with the execution.
"We're 20 years in and we're not arguing over guilt or innocence," said interim Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, whose office prosecuted Landrigan about two decades ago. "We have lawyers fighting lawyers."
Romley said the delay is one reason the public has lost some of its faith in the criminal justice system.
Sodium thiopental is in short supply nationally.
California called off an execution last month on the day that its remaining supply of the drug expired. The shortage also delayed an Oklahoma execution in August and led Kentucky's governor to postpone the signing of death warrants for two inmates.
The sole U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental, Hospira Inc. of Lake Forest, Ill., has blamed the shortage on unspecified supply problems and said new batches won't be available until January at the earliest.
Welsh-Huggins reported from Columbus, Ohio.