Illegal death drug fiasco to be first imposition of Ricketts administration

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Photo Courtesy of

Phil Brown

No governor in recent memory has drawn as much embarrassment on a national level to the state of Nebraska than Pete Ricketts. Dave Heineman was no saint, but he didn’t make a laughingstock out of the state in his near-decade of holding office the way Ricketts has done in the first year of his first term.

First, there was his utter ineffectiveness in his first legislative session. Three key pieces of legislation passed with bipartisan support: a repeal of the death penalty in the state, a measure that would allow issuance of driver’s licenses to so-called Dreamers, and a tax on gasoline to fund road projects. In all three of these cases, and within days of each other, Ricketts vetoed the legislature, but had his veto promptly overturned.

The death penalty repeal is the battle the Ricketts administration decided to pick. Having already been defeated in the legislature, Ricketts and his associates took a two-pronged approach to regaining some of the political capital they had lost in the embarrassment of the legislative session. One of the approaches was a petition drive to force a referendum of the repeal, and was the more innocent of the two. The other was to attempt to kill the ten prisoners as quickly as possible before the law might take effect.

In May, before the repeal was finalized, Ricketts had announced that $54,400 had been spent on drugs for lethal injection to replace the expired drugs the state current-ly held. However, after FedEx returned the package from the Indian supplier in September, it became apparent that it would be illegal to import one of the drugs, sodium thiopental. In what would have been a comedy of errors had success not meant death for ten men, this was the third time the state had attempted to buy execution drugs from the same Indian supplier, and both of the previous shipments had met their ends as a result of legal entanglements.

This slapstick show put on by the governor’s office and the Department of Correctional Services was a source of great amusement nationwide. Ricketts’ strenuous efforts to smuggle lethal drugs into the country with taxpayer dollars would be hilarious, contrasted with his hard-line stance against harmless drugs like marijuana, if it had happened to any other state. It seemed that every other state was laughing at us.

Ricketts finally gave up on importing illegal drugs in December. However, the last embarrassment hit the headlines last week, when letters were released from the Department of Corrections that revealed Scott Frakes, Director of the department and Ricketts’ appointee, had tried to get a refund on the $26,700 in Nebraskan money that had been splurged on the illicit sodium thiopental. The department also released the Indian drug dealer’s polite, but firm, refusal.

The unfortunate reality now faced by Nebraskans is three more years under a governor and governor’s administration that believe they can smuggle illegal, lethal drugs into the state from a supplier who duped them once before, and then if caught, simply get a refund on the taxpayer dollars used to buy the deadly dope. There’s no way to paint this in a positive light, whether you stand for the death penalty or not. 26,700 dollars from the pockets of Nebraska citizens will be the least of their concerns by the time Rickett’s first farcical term ends.


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