Activist Groups Target Drug Company over Alabama Death Penalty Links

A German investment firm divested itself of $60 million of stock in a drug company last year after British activists named the company as a possible source of a drug Alabama intends to use to execute death row inmates.

DJE Kapital, headquartered in a Munich suburb, sold its stock in Pennsylvania-based drugmaker Mylan in September. Mylan is a maker of rocuronium, one of the drugs Alabama intends to use to execute death row inmate William Kuenzel in March, though there’s no evidence the company sold the drug directly to the state.

"We were told about their activities and they did not answer our inquiries," Iris Pechthold, a board assistant for DJE Kapital wrote in an email to The Star. "Therefore we sold Mylan."

The Star’s attempts to reach officials of Mylan for comment were unsuccessful Wednesday.

European reluctance to sell lethal injection drugs to U.S. states has slowed the rate of executions in recent years, and Alabama is no exception. The state has executed one inmate since 2012, compared to the six executions carried out in 2011 alone.

In September, the Alabama attorney general's office asked the state Supreme Court to set execution dates for nine men now on death row. Legal briefs showed that earlier in the month, the state had adopted a new protocol for execution by lethal injection. Condemned inmates would be injected with midazolam, an anesthetic; rocuronium bromide to relax the muscles; and potassium chloride to stop the heart.

It was the state's third drug combination in as many years. Alabama changed its main execution drug from sodium thiopental to pentobarbital for the 2011 execution of Jason Oric Williams. Last year, state officials announced they didn't have enough pentobarbital to execute another inmate.

State Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, proposed a bill last year that would have allowed the state to keep the sources of lethal execution drugs secret. Greer said at the time that drugmakers were “subject to lawsuits and harassment” by death penalty opponents, a trend he said could shut off the state’s supply of lethal injection drugs completely.

At the time, Greer said he was attempting to save lethal injection, which he said most people prefer to electrocution as an execution method. After his bill failed to pass the Senate, Greer said he’d introduce a bill this year to bring back the electric chair as the main form of execution.

Attempts to reach Greer were unsuccessful Wednesday, as were attempts to reach Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison, who sponsored the Senate version of Greer’s bill. But Greer’s prediction of backlash against drug manufacturers — or, at least, potential manufacturers of execution drugs — appears to have come true.

In September, after the new drug combination came to light, the U.K.-based human rights group Reprieve began urging Britain’s National Health Service to stop doing business with Mylan. The group said Mylan was the only U.S.-approved maker of the drug that hadn’t put safeguards in place to prevent distribution of the drug to prison systems in death penalty states. The Star’s attempts to set up an interview with a Reprieve representative Tuesday evening and Wednesday were not successful.

Esther Brown, an activist for the Alabama-based Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, said her group contacted Reprieve to let them know about Alabama’s new lethal injection drugs. Economic pressure from Europe is the most effective way to slow the rate of executions, she said.

“This seems to be the new frontier in stopping the death penalty,” Brown said. “I don’t see the hope of anything good coming out of the Legislature.

Mylan neither confirmed nor denied providing the drug to Alabama when asked last year by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News.

“We only distribute our products through legally compliant channels, intended for prescription by healthcare providers consistent with approved labeling or applicable standard(s) of care,” the company said in a prepared statement reported by both news outlets.

State records show no direct purchases of any Mylan product by the Alabama Department of Corrections in 2014. Attempts to reach DOC spokeswoman Latonya Burton for comment on Mylan were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Pechthold, the DJE Kapital executive, said the group sold its stock largely because it counts churches and “public authorities” among its clients, and many of them have policies that forbid investment in companies involved in the death penalty.

“We would consider to buy the stock again (which we generally liked, and therefore bought it) if Mylan terminates these activities,” she wrote.

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