By Christopher Zoukis
In 2007, a Nevada jury sentenced Scott Dozier to death for murder. A methamphetamine user with drug trade connections, Dozier was sentenced after being convicted for the first-degree murder, robbery, and mutilation of a 22-year-old, who had sought to buy meth-making materials from him.
The victim’s headless, dismembered torso was discovered in a suitcase in the trash outside a Las Vegas motel. (Dozier was also convicted in Arizona of murdering another man whose body was found in 2005 buried near Phoenix.)
Now on Death Row at Nevada’s Ely state prison, Dozier has dropped his legal appeals and now demands Nevada execute him. He’s described life in prison as “not an acceptable life,” and told one reporter, “You want to kill me, kill me, man.”
Ironically, while Dozier is daring the state to execute him, concerns about the drugs the state wants to use for that purpose have twice blocked his scheduled execution dates. Nevada plans to be the first state to use a new three-drug execution protocol: injecting a high dose of the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl, followed by muscle-paralyzing drug cisatracurium and the sedative midazolam.
Although fentanyl’s at the heart of the current opioid crisis, with thousands of overdose deaths, and the drug has never been used in a U.S. execution, it’s been the other two drugs that have caused the delays. Last November, a Nevada court delayed Dozier’s first execution date, over concerns the muscle-paralyzing drug may have been involved in several arguably botched executions, and might so immobilize a prisoner no one could tell whether he was in excruciating pain from strangulation.
The state supreme court this May reversed that ruling, and a new execution date was set for mid-July. But only a day before the scheduled date, Alvogen, the New Jersey-based maker of the sedative, sued Nevada, charging the state had tricked its distributor into furnishing supplies of the drug, contrary to the manufacturer’s explicit insistence the drug was not approved for use in executions.
The next day, six hours before Dozier’s execution date, another Nevada judge blocked state use of the drug until its maker’s lawsuit could be heard. The next hearing on the Alvogen lawsuit isn’t scheduled until September, although the state attorney general has already asked the state supreme court to undo the judge’s order blocking Dozier’s execution.
The controversy over Dozier’s twice-blocked execution may well highlight nationally the practical difficulties states with death penalty laws are facing in carrying them out. While Nevada has a capital punishment law, it hasn’t executed anyone since 2006, as capital punishment in the U.S. last yet hit its lowest level in 25 years.
The reluctance of drug firms to supply the components of lethal injections, and the willingness of at least some to go to court to keep those products away from state executioners, add to the problems of capital punishment states. In Dozier’s case, for example, the reason Nevada sought supplies of Alvogen’s sedatives was that its supplies of a similar product (Xanax) had passed their expiration date. Similarly, new delays from the drugmaker’s lawsuit could mean other lethal drugs the state now has could be unusable before the arguments are resolved.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014). He regularly contributes to New York Daily News, Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News. He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonerResource.com.