Missouri revises execution protocol
Controversial mixture of sedative, painkiller used in Ohio added as a backup method
Sunday, January 19, 2014
The Missouri Department of Corrections has recently included a secondary lethal injection method in its execution protocol, according to court documents. The change comes as media accounts and legal filings raise concerns over the state’s current method of using pentobarbital from a compounding pharmacy.
The secondary method — a combination of the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone — was called into question Thursday after Ohio became the first state to use the combination in an execution. That execution took longer than usual and caused unusual gasping from the condemned man, according to The Associated Press and other media accounts.
Lawyers for the state of Missouri disclosed the newest in a series of revised protocols to lawyers of death row inmates Jan. 15, but documents indicating a second method had been adopted were disclosed Jan. 11.
The department’s primary method remains an injection of pentobarbital, which the state has used for its past two executions and has been acquiring from an unnamed compounding pharmacy.
But the new protocol also states that “if the department director determines that a sufficient quantity of pentobarbital is not available or if at any time the available pentobarbital is deemed unusable,” medical personnel would prepare the midazolam and hydromorphone combination.
The department’s revised protocols were provided in the course of discovery to a group of lawyers who represent Missouri death row inmates in ongoing litigation over the state’s lethal injection procedures. St. Louis attorney John William Simon, one of those lawyers, said the timing of the disclosures “fits the ongoing pattern of delay and deception” by the state.
Officials with the Department of Corrections did not respond to questions Friday about when and why a secondary method was included in the protocol.
The pentobarbital method ran into challenges Friday when attorneys for Herbert Smulls, the next man with a scheduled execution in Missouri, filed a complaint suggesting the department may be improperly storing expired doses of the drug.
The complaint was filed Friday with the Oklahoma State Board of Pharmacy and claims an unidentified Oklahoma compounding pharmacy supplied Missouri the drugs and gave them erroneous instructions to keep the drug at room temperature, according to an AP report. The report also said a corrections department official testified Wednesday in a deposition that he was storing the pentobarbital in his office until Smulls’ scheduled execution on Jan. 29.
Missouri moved to the pentobarbital method in October after a plan to use the common anesthetic propofol fell through over concerns from the medical community. At that time, the department also moved to make the identity of the supplier of lethal injection chemicals closed to the public.
St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon reported at the end of December that public records they pieced together suggested the compounding pharmacy that provided the state drugs for a recent execution is located in Oklahoma and not licensed in Missouri.
In Ohio, the family of the man put to death Thursday intends to file suit against the state, and public records show the execution took the longest amount of time of any of 53 executions in Ohio since 1999, the AP reported Friday. Ohio had been using the pentobarbital method but moved to the new one after it began having difficulty acquiring pentobarbital.
Legislators have already taken up the death penalty issue this session. John Rizzo, D-Kansas City, filed legislation that would put a moratorium on executions until an 11-member commission could study the way Missouri carries out executions and release a report by November. The Government Oversight and Accountability Committee plans to hear testimony Tuesday about lethal injection methods from the corrections department.
On Thursday, Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, introduced legislation that would include execution by firing squad as one of the options the corrections department could use to carry out executions. The legislation is co-sponsored by Rep. Paul Fitzwater, R-Potosi, who chairs the Special Standing Committee on Corrections.
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