In the latest episode in one of the more bizarre story arcs of America’s death penalty, on Monday the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation revealed (under court order) that the source of their mysterious supply of lethal injection drugs was Archimedes Pharma, the same British firm that supplied the drugs Arizona used to execute Jeffrey Landrigan.

They also revealed that they paid over $36,000 to a wholesaler for a massive stockpile of the drug.

But let’s back up – like any good drama, you can’t jump in mid-season. So here’s the recap: Every death penalty state in the U.S. uses sodium thiopental to kill people and only one company in the U.S. actually makes it, Illinois-based Hospira, Inc. Earlier this year, supply problems led to a shortage, with Hospira saying they were out until early 2011 and states’ stockpiles nearing expiration. The machinery of death almost ground to a halt, with some states putting executions on hold, but others tried to change the law to allow other sorts of lethal injection drugs, or to enable them to get the drugs from other states and even foreign suppliers not approved by the FDA.

Naturally, importing lethal poison for the purpose of capital punishment could raise some eyebrows, so it’s not too surprising that states did everything they could to keep it from the public. Oversight from the people can be problematic, after all. Corrections officials in Texas tried (unsuccessfully) to have the information deemed a state secret, and today remain in violation of an order from the state Attorney General by refusing to disclose their supplier. In a glaring example of big government judicial activism, Arizona actually got the Supreme Court to essentially sign off on its program of secrecy, paving the way for the state to kill Jeffrey Landrigan using drugs from an undisclosed source.

When California got ahold of some of this mystery supply, they weren’t as lucky as Arizona was on the judicial front. Corrections officials admitted that at least some of the information should be made public, but simply ignored their legal responsibility to disclose it in the face of a Public Records Act request.

It took a lawsuit from the ACLU before they would finally disclose, and even then they waited until they were good and ready. Now we know why. California officials finally revealed that their first batch of poison was supplied by its good neighbors in Arizona, and that they also put in one last order -- for half a kilo -- to the U.K. firm that had supplied Arizona with its doses of killer drugs.

While California was trying to grease the wheels of the death penalty, grassroots activists all over the world – including members – were joining the British human rights agency Reprieve in calling on the U.K. government to uphold its anti-death penalty stance by stopping the export of sodium thiopental. Corrections officials were trying to beat the clock by getting as much of the drug as they possibly could before the ban, and obviously couldn’t be fettered by anything as trivial as transparency.

But according to Reprieve, there’s even more to this soap opera. It turns out the $36 grand California paid for the drug was a smidge above market value – a 3,500 perccent markup, to be exact. Market value for their half kilo should have been about a thousand dollars. Reprieve calls the mark up “blood money” and suggests that California is poised to distribute their stockpile to other states around the country. It certainly seems like a wise investment for cash-strapped California.

We can’t feed the people of this state, but by gum we can kill them. Reprieve is calling on Business Secretary Vince Cable to intervene. After only recently imposing a ban on the export of lethal injection drugs (just after California placed its order), he can contact U.S. officials and request that the shipment not be allowed to reach its destination. Activists here, meanwhile, need to keep the pressure on Hospira, as the U.S. manufacturer has indicated that its supplies will be back on track early next year. Send them a message urging them to refuse to help states put people to death.