US judge starts hearing on Nevada death penalty plan

A U.S. judge on Friday started hearings on a Nevada execution plan that would let the state use so-called sedative midazolam to put condemned killers to death and kill them with painless carbon monoxide.

U.S. District Judge James Mahan in Las Vegas will hear testimony and recommend a ruling on the method of execution for Scott Raymond Dozier, who’s serving a death sentence for shooting to death a Las Vegas police officer during a drug-related robbery in 2005.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval in May signed a six-month order allowing the use of midazolam as a backup execution drug in case it is deemed ineffective.

Midazolam has been successfully used in executions in other states, including Ohio and Arizona, but the European Union has criticized the use of the drug in executions and has threatened sanctions against those that have obtained its generic version from a company with a reputation for not selling to governments.

Mahan asked Sandoval, who also is acting attorney general, to file a brief in the case.

Friday’s scheduled hearing was postponed until Aug. 1 to give attorneys more time to talk and make filings.

Mahan said he expects to issue a written ruling by Sept. 1.

Gov. Sandoval in May signed a six-month order allowing the use of midazolam as a backup execution drug in case it is deemed ineffective, saying the state has enough of the drug to use Dozier’s execution on Nov. 12 to meet its deadline.

Attorneys for Dozier, who is serving a death sentence for the 2005 murder of a Las Vegas police officer, want the judge to order Nevada to stop using the drug.

They argue that midazolam is not a safe or effective death penalty drug.

Sandoval’s order says use of midazolam in executions requires certification from a doctor that it is the only way to achieve an unconsciousness for the execution, but legal safeguards are not considered “compelling.

The order also says Nevada could use a three-drug mixture of pentobarbital and drugs that incapacitate the inmate with the sedative diazepam and the painkiller fentanyl.

Fentanyl, the component not included in Sandoval’s order, has gained notoriety as a common method of street drug deaths as of late.

Dozier, 43, was scheduled to be executed Feb. 12 with a similar three-drug combination by former Attorney General Adam Laxalt. But his execution was delayed when the new attorney general’s office opposed the combination.

Dozier has said he wants to spend the rest of his life in prison.

In 2007, a federal judge halted Nevada’s plans to use midazolam in a previous execution, ruling it did not meet standards to be used in executions.

But last year, Sandoval released the name of a pentobarbital manufacturer from a legal protective order, paving the way for prison officials to find a drug to use in Dozier’s execution.

Sandoval said that in April he had asked the Department of Corrections and Justice Department to “reconsider” their findings that midazolam was not a successful lethal injection drug.

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