ST. LOUIS (AP) - A civil rights group is raising concerns about Missouri's supply of a drug crucial to the execution process as the state prepares to execute its first convict in nearly two years.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri announced Thursday that the Missouri Department of Corrections has a dwindling supply of sodium thiopental, and that what is on hand is nearing its expiration date. The ACLU uncovered that information through a freedom of information request.
Sodium thiopental is the first of three drugs used in many executions, an anesthetic that renders the condemned inmate unconscious.
Corrections Department spokesman Chris Cline said in a statement that the department has an adequate supply of sodium thiopental for the execution of Richard Clay, scheduled to die at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday for killing a Missouri man in 1994.
The ACLU's investigation found Missouri has 50 units of sodium thiopental in stock, which the group said would be sufficient for the execution and for a rehearsal of the execution. Previous execution rehearsals used 10 units. But the ACLU said Missouri didn't use the drug during its most recent quarterly execution rehearsal in July, and that this may have been because the state wants to stretch its inventory with an eye to future executions.
ACLU attorney Tony Rothert said that in earlier rehearsals, corrections department staff practiced how to prepare and mix all three of the drugs used in the execution process. But sodium thiopental was not used in the July rehearsal, he said, raising concerns that the staff may not correctly prepare the drug during Clay's execution, meaning the convict could possibly feel pain.
Cline's statement said that while corrections officials would not discuss the training, "I can tell you the statement made by the ACLU referencing the July 13, 2010 execution simulation training is inaccurate." He declined to elaborate.
The ACLU also is worried that drugs so close to their expiration might not work correctly, Rothert said. A document supplied by the state to the ACLU shows Missouri's batch of sodium thiopental expires March 1.
"These documents show that the state has been cutting corners during its training," said Brenda Jones, director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. "The inadequate training and nearing expiration date for the drugs raise serious constitutional questions. We do not believe that the state can guarantee that Mr. Clay will not be killed in a cruel and unusual manner."
Some executions across the U.S. have already been put on hold because of the shortage. Just last month, California called off its first execution in five years after prison officials were unable to secure sodium thiopental despite a frantic two-month search.
Sodium thiopental is used in 35 states, and many are trying to barter with states that do have supplies, or are seeking alternative drugs.
Missouri has no choice but to use sodium thiopental because the state's execution protocol requires it.