British group says it's suing to stop export of execution drug sodium thiopental to US

A group opposed to the death penalty filed suit Tuesday to try to prevent a British company from exporting a drug that could be used in the execution of an American inmate.

Reprieve, a London-based rights group, and the London law firm Leigh Day & Co. are suing in the hope of forcing the government to regulate the export of sodium thiopental. The sedative, which is part of the three-drug cocktail used in lethal injections in the U.S., was scheduled to be exported from Britain to Tennessee imminently, Reprieve said.

The group warned that sodium thiopental would be used in the execution of 56-year-old Edmund Zagorski, who has been convicted of committing two murders in 1983. The Department for Business Innovation and Skills has declined to block the export of the drug.

"We can stop the export of these drugs," Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith said at a news conference. "But the (UK government) is dedicated to inaction."

Reprieve spokeswoman Katherine O'Shea said "all it would take to prevent the death of Mr. Zagorski and others" would be for Business Secretary Vince Cable to issue an emergency order regulating the export of sodium thiopental."

In a letter to Leigh Day obtained by The Associated Press, Cable said "the U.K. firmly opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle," but that requiring exporters of sodium thiopental to seek a license "would not be justified." Cable's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sodium thiopental has historically been used as a general anesthetic, but is also the first of three drugs given during the lethal injection process for death row prisoners. The U.S. has a shortage of sodium thiopental and multiple states have halted or slowed the pace of lethal injections while searching for alternative sources of the drug.

Last week, Arizona Chief Deputy Attorney General Tim Nelson told The Associated Press the state obtained from Britain the sodium thiopental used to execute an inmate.

Zagorski's lawyers at the federal public defender's office in Nashville, Tennessee, declined comment on the lawsuit, although the office said it was aware it had been filed.


Gillian Smith in London and Randall Dickerson in Nashville, Tennessee contributed to this report.

Source: AP News

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