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Georgia Executions on Hold

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The drug, sodium thiopental, is part of a cocktail that's used in executions not only in Georgia, but around the country. It's been in short supply for many years ever since the only American manufacturer ceased making it. There were accusations made that the drug was being shipped from a ''fly by night'' manufacturer in the UK and that the drugs may not be pure or could be counterfeit. Link Pharmaceuticals, once located in the U.S., had been the supplier for the drug until it was purchased by UK drug maker Archimedes Pharmas.

Attorneys arguing for their clients throughout the state are saying prison officials are introducing the potential for cruel and inhumane punishment by using the sedative when they're not sure it's effective, legal or even these drugs are sodium thiopental. That argument is moot, at least for the short term because Georgia has halted all scheduled execution dates and won't be setting any new ones until the issue is settled.

In January Emmanuel Hammond, convicted for the murder of a preschool teacher from Atlanta, was executed after his lawyers were unable to secure a stay until the issue could be investigated. Those same lawyers argued they believe the drugs were counterfeit. The case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was ultimately rejected.

John Bentigoglio, once a deputy general, approached the Department of Justice in February to consider launching its own investigation to ensure Georgia hadn't violated federal laws. He suspected the state was not registering its shipments of the sedative with the DEA. Bentivoglio is currently representing another Georgia death row inmate, Andrew DeYoung.

The Georgia Department of Corrections released a statement saying that it contacted the DEA, versus the DEA raiding them. The DOC claims it made initial contact and requested a regulatory review to ensure it was in both state and federal compliance.

The state has in its stockpile inventories of the drug with the Link Pharmaceuticals logo on it. The company hasn't put its name on those labels since May 2007. This means the four year shelf life expires in weeks, even if it is proven authentic.

Many states have no inventory of the drug and therefore haven't been carrying out executions. At least five states have used the UK firm in the past, though it's not clear if any of these states have the controversial drug maker's inventory in their respective possessions.

This has strengthened the arguments of those wishing to abolish the death penalty in its entirety. There's been no word on how long the investigation might take.

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