A shortage of the drugs needed to carry out lethal injections has caused states that want to keep executing inmates to scramble as they look for alternatives. Some states have found new methods of obtaining the drugs needed for lethal injections, while others have discussed returning to old options like the firing squad or the gas chamber.
In Missouri, which was supposed to execute an inmate via lethal injection just last week and which has struggled with finding the necessary drugs, the state’s top law enforcement officer offered a new solution on Thursday: Producing lethal injection drugs in Missouri.
Lethal injection is the main way executions are carried out in this country, but the necessary drugs are simply not widely available after European officials and companies objected to the use of the drugs in executions. States have responded by contemplating other execution methods, and while most states have only talked about these methods without making any changes, last Tennessee officially made the electric chair its backup method of execution.
Chris Koster, the Missouri attorney general, said in a speech Thursday that creating the drugs in the state would deal with both the drug shortage as well as the secrecy currently surrounding the process.
Lethal injections require “an uneasy cooperation” involving pharmaceutical companies producing the drugs, medical professionals helping to administer them and state officials responsible for overseeing the executions, said Koster, who was speaking at a Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis conference.
The recent drug shortages complicated the lethal injection process, causing the state to obtain the drug pentobarbital (or a similar substitute) from sources that only sell them if their identities are hidden, he said.
“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,” said Koster, according to written remarks provided by his office.
Koster, a Democrat and a supporter of the death penalty, said producing the drugs in the state “would improve the high level of public transparency” necessary for executions.
Rather than relying on hidden merchants, Koster said state lawmakers should set aside money for a laboratory to produce the necessary drugs in Missouri.
The secrecy currently involved in the process has been criticized by attorneys for inmates as well as reporters, who have argued that the state has to reveal who is producing the execution chemicals. Multiple media outlets, including the Associated Press and the Guardian, filed a lawsuit earlier this month in an attempt to force the state to reveal the source of its lethal injection drugs.
“The perimeter of secrecy around the lethal injection process in Missouri has expanded” as it has grown include the people selling the drugs, he said. “While this creeping secrecy is legal, it may not be prudent.”
Missouri has executed four people in 2014, which is as many people as the state executed between 2006 and 2013.
The botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma last month drew worldwide attention, reviving a debate over the death penalty and the way it is carried out in the United States. An execution in Texas, set to be the first since the botch in Oklahoma, was halted hours before the injection after a court cited the intellectual disability of inmate Robert James Campbell.
As a result, Missouri’s scheduled execution of Russell Bucklew last week would have been the first in the country since the Oklahoma episode. That execution was halted, reinstated and halted again during a judicial back-and-forth before the Supreme Court ultimately stayed the execution and sent it back to lower courts. Attorneys for Campbell and Bucklew had criticized the secrecy involved in the lethal injection process in both states.