Media organizations filed a lawsuit to force Missouri to reveal the source of its lethal injection drugs


(Reuters)

The Associated Press, the Guardian and three other news organizations filed a lawsuit in a Missouri court Thursday to try and force the Missouri Department of Corrections to release more information about where the state is getting the drugs used for lethal injections.

This lawsuit, which comes less than a week before the next scheduled execution in the state, arrives as executions in the United States are facing heightened scrutiny after a widely publicized botched lethal injection in Oklahoma. But it also comes after years of states struggling to obtain the drugs needed for executions, which has caused officials to use unproven drug cocktails, secretly hand drugs across state lines and, in some states, conceal the sources of the drugs.

In the lawsuit, which was filed in the Circuit Court of Cole County, Mo., the news organizations say that they repeatedly tried to locate information about the drugs for the lethal injection under the state’s Sunshine Law, but the state declined.

The public has a right to learn “the composition, concentration, quality, and source of drugs used in lethal injection executions,” according to the suit.

The lawsuit specifically cites the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma last month, noting that reporters from the Associated Press and the Guardian were among the witnesses to that execution.

Lockett was supposed to be killed via an injection of three drugs, but his vein collapsed and the drug didn’t properly enter his system; he writhed and grimaced for a time, causing the execution to be called off. Lockett died of a heart attack 43 minutes after the execution began.

Having access to information about the methods of execution “promotes public confidence in the integrity of the criminal justice system,” the suit says. It goes on to say that the botched execution of Lockett “confirms the value to the execution process itself of public access to accurate information about the source and quality of drugs used.”

Missouri is scheduled to execute Russell Bucklew on May 21 for shooting a man, after which Bucklew raped, beat and abducted an ex-girlfriend. The Missouri  Department of Corrections used to make information about its lethal injection drugs available, but it stopped doing so last October, executing six people “without revealing the source or quality of the drugs used to inflict death,” according to the suit.

States have struggled in recent years to obtain the drugs for lethal injections, owing to shortages that stem from European officials or companies objecting to the death penalty. As a result, many states have had to seek out new sources of drugs, with some turning to compounding pharmacies and other states. A compounding pharmacy in Oklahoma agreed this year not to supply the drugs necessary for an execution in Missouri, but the state located other drugs and carried out the execution the following week. The state did not reveal where it obtained the drugs for that execution.

The Associated Press and the Guardian were joined by the Kansas City Star, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Springfield News-Leader in the lawsuit.

Read the complete lawsuit here:

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He runs Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
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Mark Berman · May 15