ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster is prodding the state supreme court to set some execution dates for 19 individuals.
Koster said it’s been more than a year since Missouri carried out an execution, largely due to concerns over whether the old three drug system was cruel and unusual punishment.
“We have a law in the state of Missouri, the death penalty law is very clear and our filing was a recognition that the Supreme Court can not simply be silent on this issue.”
“It needs to answer these questions one way or another, and so the single drug protocol that has been developed by the department of corrections, will probably come under scrutiny over the next several months but it is time to move this process forward and silence on this issue is really not an option.”
Last month, Missouri became the first state in the nation to adopt, Propofol, a surgical anesthetic as its execution drug. After Koster asked the high court to set execution dates, it filed orders in six cases, asking inmates to “show cause” why they shouldn’t be executed. They have until June 29 to respond.
Propofol, is the same anesthetic that caused the overdose death of pop star Michael Jackson in 2009. Critics question how the state can guarantee a drug untested for lethal injection won’t cause pain and suffering for the condemned.
Adding to the concern, some say, is Missouri’s written protocol which, like the one it replaced, does not require a physician to be part of the execution team. It states that a “physician, nurse, or pharmacist” prepares the chemicals, and a “physician, nurse or emergency medical technician … inserts intravenous lines, monitors the prisoner, and supervises the injection of lethal chemicals by nonmedical members of the execution team.”
Jonathan Groner, an Ohio State University surgeon who has studied lethal injection extensively, said propofol is typically administered by either an anesthesiologist, who is a physician, or a nurse anesthetist under the physician’s direct supervision. Improper administration could cause a burning sensation or pain at the injection site, he said.
Groner said high doses of propofol will kill by causing respiratory arrest. But the dosage must be accurate and the process must move swiftly because propofol typically wears off in just a few minutes.
“If they start breathing before the heart stops, they might not die,” Groner said. That would force the process to be restarted.
Critics also question the safety of the single-drug method. Missouri becomes the third state with a single-drug protocol, along with Arizona and Ohio. Three others — South Dakota, Idaho and Washington — have options for single- or multiple-drug executions, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. California and Kentucky are exploring a switch to the one-drug method.