A U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C., ordered a halt to the federal government’s planned execution of Keith Dwayne Nelson.
A U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C., on Thursday ordered a halt to the federal government’s planned execution on Friday of Keith Dwayne Nelson, saying its lethal injection protocol violates a federal law regulating prescription drugs.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan found that pentobarbital, a powerful barbiturate, which the Justice Department planned to administer to Nelson at its execution chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana, requires a prescription, which the government had failed to acquire.
Executing Nelson with pentobarbital would therefore not be in accordance with the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and would violate the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal agencies develop regulations, Chutkan said.
“Where the government argues that a lethal injection drug is legally and constitutionally permissible because it will ensure a ‘humane’ death, it cannot then disclaim a responsibility to comply with federal statutes enacted to ensure that the drugs operate humanely,” Chutkan said in her 13-page order.
Justice Department lawyers immediately asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to overturn Chutkan’s order.
Over this summer, the federal government has executed four men, including one on Tuesday, after an informal 17-year-hiatus on executions ended under President Donald Trump.
The pause in federal executions had been caused in part by legal challenges to lethal injection protocols and difficulties obtaining deadly drugs. Prior to July, there had only been three federal executions since 1963, all between 2001 and 2003.