PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona officials said Tuesday they will replace one of three drugs to be used in an execution scheduled Wednesday because federal officials contended the state failed to fill out a form to import the drug being swapped out.
The Attorney General's Office notified the state Supreme Court on Tuesday that the Corrections Department will replace sodium thiopental with another sedative — pentobarbital.
The state's filing said the Corrections Department is making the swap because a U.S. Justice Department official told the state the Drug Enforcement Administration believes the Corrections Department "failed to fill out one of the forms necessary for importation of sodium thiopental from a foreign source."
Arizona will make the drug substitution for the execution of Donald Beaty "to avoid questions about the legality of ADC's use of sodium thiopental obtained from a foreign supplier," the filing said.
Beaty is scheduled to be executed at a state prison in Florence for the 1984 murder of 13-year-old Christy Ann Fornoff.
Defense lawyers for Arizona death row inmates for months have questioned whether the state legally imported its supply of sodium thiopental. State officials previously acknowledged a miscoding on an importation but insisted they acted legally in obtaining a supply of sodium thiopental from a British supplier last year.
"The question of whether the Department of Corrections legally imported the drug has now been answered," Beaty defense attorney Dale Baich said of Tuesday's filing by the state.
It's not just a paperwork problem, the defense lawyer said. "The paperwork is a legal requirement."
Asked whether the court would be asked to halt the execution because of the swap, Baich said Beaty's defense team was reviewing its options.
Several other states have already switched to pentobarbital because sodium thiopental is in short supply nationally, and state Corrections Director Charles Ryan has said previously that Arizona planned to switch to that drug also.
DEA officials seized several states' supplies of sodium thiopental because of importation issues.
The Arizona filing said DEA "has not taken any action against the Arizona Department of Corrections to date" and that the Justice Department official who contacted the department Tuesday "offered no explanation for the timing of the call."
Department of Justice spokeswoman Lauran Sweeney declined comment.