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Nebraska Agency Defends Illegal Execution Drug Purchase As A "Unique Process"

Last year, Nebraska spent more than $25,000 on illegal execution drugs they never received from a man in India. The department of corrections defended its conduct to auditors in a report released Monday.

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The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services defended the state's conduct in paying $26,000 for illegal execution drugs it never received, arguing it was a "unique process," in response to questions from a state auditor looking into the sale.

A report by the auditor was requested by two state senators earlier this year, and was released on Monday.

Many of the facts in the report were already brought to light by BuzzFeed News. The report details how the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services came to spend thousands of dollars on illegal execution drugs from a supplier in India, in spite of a federal prohibition on importing the drug.

As BuzzFeed News has reported, a man in India named Chris Harris has made tens of thousands of dollars from death penalty states desperate to find a source for execution drugs. The supplier claims he can manufacture drugs, but it turns out the facility he registered is just a small office space that he rents out.

Harris attempted to FedEx Nebraska the drugs, but they never made it out of India, and he refuses to give the state a refund. Harris shipped drugs to two other death penalty states last year, but the federal government seized those shipments as soon as they entered the United States.

The department of corrections' deputy director of administrative services, Robin Spindler, defended the agency's conduct to the auditors.

"The protocol...does not require" approval of the sale from the state's administrative agency, Spindler told auditors by email. She insisted that the department of corrections "has specific authority" to "create its own process for obtaining the necessary lethal substances, including obtaining them without a prescription upon a written request from the NDCS Director."

Spindler added that "there are no competitive bidding requirements or requirements for obtaining" execution drugs.

"Again, obtaining lethal injection drugs is a unique process, and the legislature specifically authorized NDCS to come up with its own procedure; therefore, the requirement of obtaining permission ... does not apply."

The auditors passed along information on the drug purchase to senators, but made no determination on its legality or wisdom. The two state senators who requested the audit did not immediately return a request for comment.

If the department of correctional services is successful, the agency will soon have even more autonomy over how it purchases execution drugs. Under a proposal released just last week, Director Scott Frakes called for the power to keep secret the supplier of the state's execution drugs, and is asking for the ability to change which drugs it will inject into death row inmates. Doing so would make reporting on the supplier difficult, if not impossible.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska has already pledged to fight the push for secrecy; a hearing in which the public will be allowed to testify is scheduled for later this month.


Chris McDaniel is an investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. His secure PGP fingerprint is C90B B2EF E872 EF22 4EDA DABB 50E6 F2BE 1164 FCAF

Contact Chris McDaniel at chris.mcdaniel@buzzfeed.com.

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