State and federal judges may need to synchronize their watches if two Missouri executions are expected to be carried out.
The Missouri Supreme Court restarted the execution clock for two Missouri death row inmates - Allen Nicklasson and Joseph Franklin - when it set their respective execution dates for Oct. 23 and Nov. 22.
The state court's action marks a reversal of an ongoing delay while Missouri awaited a federal court ruling on the constitutionality of using a designated execution drug, propofol.
If that name sounds familiar, it is because it is the anesthetic drug that killed pop star Michael Jackson.
The federal court challenge essentially claims the drug may not prevent offenders from suffering cruel and unusual punishment during executions.
Presumably, the state could designate a different anesthetic for executions, but the practical effect might be further delay while the existing lawsuit becomes moot and a new lawsuit challenges the replacement drug.
Propofol was designated as Missouri's execution anesthetic after a previous drug became unavailable. And it also appears to be on its way out.
The manufacturer of the drug said it will not sell propofol to states that intend to use it for executions.
As a consequence, timing also is a factor regarding use of the drug. The state's three remaining dosages of the drug have the following expiration dates - October, May 2014 and 2015.
Death by execution remains on the books in Missouri as a possible punishment in some capital murder convictions.
As a practical matter, however, Missouri executions gradually have become fewer and farther between.
Capital punishment opponents have been fairly successful at blocking a procedure they have been unable to eliminate.
A death penalty is irrevocable. Our justice system must be certain an person is guilty of specific capital murder circumstances before sentencing that offender to death.
If and when that determination is made, however, let the punishment be carried out.