JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) - Missouri's attorney general told a Bar Association conference that the state could reduce objections to its execution protocol by creating a state lab to manufacture the lethal injection drug, pentobarbital.
Attorney General Chris Koster suggested the idea in a speech
at the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis conference at the Lake of the Ozarks.
"For Missouri to maintain lethal injection as its preferred method of execution, it is my belief the Legislature should remove market-driven participants and pressures from the system at the earliest opportunity," Koster said. "The Legislature should appropriate funds to establish a state-operated, DEA-licensed, laboratory to produce the execution chemicals in our state. As a matter of policy, Missouri should not be reliant on merchants whose identities must be shielded from public view or who can exercise unacceptable leverage over this profound state act."
Missouri has been at the center of a national debate over the lethal injection process. Missouri had averaged an execution a month since switching from a three-drug combination to pentobarbital alone in November 2013, until an inmate received a stay
on May 21 after arguing that a rare medical condition could cause him to suffer cruel and unusual punishment.
On Friday, May 30, the state announced plans to execute a different inmate, John C. Middleton, on July 16. It would be Missouri's seventh execution since November.
Central to the controversy in Missouri is the state's interpretation of the composition of its execution team, which by law is anonymous. Missouri officials claim that the compounding pharmacy that provides the pentobarbital is part of the execution team and is entitled to anonymity.
Missouri had to switch to pentobarbital from a three-drug mix after drug-makers began refusing to manufacture the drugs for executions.
Koster compared keeping the identity of the compounding pharmacy a secret akin to having the executioner hooded during a hanging.
Several news organizations, including Courthouse News, have challenged
the state's secrecy surrounding the compounding pharmacy.
Koster said in his speech: "Since last fall, when Missouri began conducting executions using pentobarbital or its equivalent, attorneys for the condemned and members of the press have worked relentlessly to discover the sources of the chemical. The inmates argue they have a constitutional right to know who is producing the lethal chemical and to evaluate the sources for themselves. Journalists, meanwhile, have argued that the public has a First Amendment right to information regarding a matter of such importance as the death penalty. There is much on this topic yet to be litigated. Thus far, however, the courts have upheld Missouri's right to keep the identity of its chemical suppliers secret."
In April, a botched execution in Oklahoma garnered international headlines.
In May, the governor of Tennessee signed a bill into law that would allow the state to use the electric chair if the lethal injection drug was not available.
On May 28, a federal judge temporarily halted executions in Ohio to allow more time to review an increase to the state's lethal injection dosages.
Of the 35 states that have the death penalty, 21 use lethal injection only; lethal injection is the primary method of execution in the other 14 states - including Missouri and Tennessee - that have multiple options.
In his speech, Koster talked about Gov. Jay Nixon's burden of enforcing the death penalty. Nixon spent 16 years as attorney general before spending the past six as governor. He has overseen more than half of Missouri's executions since the state took the responsibility for executions from county sheriffs in 1937.
Koster said Missouri will continue executing prisoners.
There are 42 inmates on the state's death row and 14 have exhausted their appeals.
"I am a supporter of the death penalty, but I'm also charged with maintaining sensible and transparent government processes," Koster said. "Eliminating outside business interests from Missouri's execution protocol would improve the high level of public transparency that is demanded in the exercise of this extraordinary state power."