Mo. bill would give flexibility on executions

Thursday, February 20, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A state senator proposed Wednesday to give Missouri prison officials more choices in deciding how they want to execute inmates, as the state is facing increasing scrutiny for its current lethal injection methods.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer introduced legislation that would give the department full discretion in deciding how to put inmates to death. Current state law only permits executions by lethal gas or chemicals. The state doesn't have a functioning gas chamber, leaving lethal injection as the only execution method.

"I don't care what they use," said Schaefer, R-Columbia, and a former prosecutor.

Lethal injections, gas, electrocutions, hanging and firing squads are allowed under U.S. law, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The measure was introduced on the same day the head of the Corrections Department declined to tell the Senate Appropriations Committee, which Schaefer chairs, whether the state had enough of its execution drug to carry out next week's lethal injection.

Michael Taylor is scheduled to die Wednesday for the death of a 15-year-old Kansas City, Mo., girl. Missouri used pentobarbital acquired from a compounding pharmacy in its last three executions, but a compounding pharmacy in Oklahoma agreed this week to not sell the drug for use in Taylor's execution.

Taylor's lawsuit against the Oklahoma-based Apothecary Shoppe alleged that several recent executions using compounded pentobarbital showed it would likely cause him "severe, unnecessary, lingering and ultimately inhumane pain."

Corrections Department director George Lombardi said Wednesday that he wouldn't comment on the state's drug supply and whether it had enough for Taylor's execution. But he said the department cannot stockpile compounded pentobarbital because of its limited shelf life.

Gov. Jay Nixon said the department is still prepared to carry out Taylor's execution. In a deposition last month, a Corrections Department official said the agency has a backup supply of the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone for executions.

Schaefer said he introduced his bill because the focus should be on the victims of crimes rather than the inmates and the execution protocols. He said legal questions surrounding Missouri's current protocols shouldn't be used by death penalty opponents to advocate for an end to capital punishment in the state.

Other senators Wednesday said there should be greater transparency in the state's execution process.

While Schaefer's solution would give prison officials greater control over executions, other proposals would give lawmakers more power.

Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, has introduced legislation to halt executions in Missouri until a special commission can create new procedures. The panel's recommendation would then be subject to legislative oversight.

Missouri previously used a three-drug combination for its lethal injections but switched after drug manufacturers pulled their products for use in executions.

While Schaefer's approach would give the department flexibility in its execution procedure, another proposal in the state House would allow the department to carry out the death penalty using firing squads. Missouri's attorney general has also suggested that the state could reconstruct its gas chamber.

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