Judge agrees to stay Missouri execution scheduled for next week


The death chamber at the Missouri Correctional Center in Bonne Terre, Mo. (James A. Finley/AP)

A federal judge has agreed to stay an execution that was set to occur in Missouri next week, at least temporarily halting the scheduled lethal injection of a man convicted of murdering two women in 1996.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri announced the stay on Thursday. That came six days before the state intended to execute John Winfield, who was sentenced to death in 1998 for shooting and killing the women. He also blinded an ex-girlfriend during the same attack.

Attorneys for Winfield had argued that prison officials in Missouri intimidated a prison employee who would have taken action to support Winfield’s clemency efforts. The order signed by U.S. District Judge Catherine D. Perry states that the execution is stayed “pending further order of the court.”

Winfield would have been killed with an intravenous dose of the drug pentobarbital, which Missouri adopted as its go-to lethal injection drug last year. This came as states across the country were struggling to find the drugs for lethal injections, which has caused officials in some of these states to contemplate bringing back other methods of execution such the gas chamber or firing squad.

Winfield’s attorneys had also filed other appeals, including one that criticized the secrecy surrounding the state’s lethal injection process. This secrecy has been the source of considerable criticism. Several media organizations, including the Associated Press and the Guardian, filed a lawsuit last month to try to get Missouri to release more information about where the state is getting the drugs.

Chris Koster, the Missouri attorney general, also spoke against the secrecy in a recent speech, though he said it was legal. He suggested that Missouri should produce its own lethal injection drugs to avoid the secrecy and improve the state’s execution process.

Missouri had been scheduled to execute convicted killer Russell Bucklew in May, but that execution was halted and ultimately stayed by the Supreme Court.

The state has executed four people in 2014, the same number of executions it carried out between 2006 and 2013.

Related: Everything you need to know about executions in the United States.

 

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