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Missouri official proposes state drug lab to make chemicals for executions

Missouri should establish its own laboratory to produce chemicals for use in executions rather than rely on an “uneasy cooperation” with medical professionals and pharmaceutical companies, the state’s attorney general said Thursday.

Attorney General Chris Koster (D), spoke to the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis during the group’s meeting at Lake of the Ozarks.

“For Missouri to maintain lethal injection . . . it is my belief the Legislature should remove market-driven participants and pressures from the system and appropriate funds to establish a state-operated, DEA-licensed, laboratory to produce the execution chemicals in our state,” said Koster, according to a transcript provided by his office.

A state-operated lab for execution chemicals would be a first, and it isn’t clear whether it could be implemented through a simple change in Missouri’s protocol or whether legislative approval would be necessary. Messages seeking comment from Department of Corrections officials and the attorney general’s office were not returned.

Lethal injection has come under increased scrutiny since April, when an Oklahoma inmate’s vein collapsed and he died of a heart attack 43 minutes after the execution process began.

Missouri is among several states that purchase execution drugs in secret from compounding pharmacies, the process shielded by state law. The Associated Press and four newspapers filed suit this month in an effort to have the process made public.

“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,” Koster said.

Missouri has executed four men this year. Only Texas, with seven, and Florida, with five, have performed more executions. The May 21 execution of Missouri inmate Russell Bucklew was postponed when the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to a federal appeals court. It isn’t clear when, or if, the execution will be rescheduled.

Bucklew has a rare medical condition, with malformed veins and tumors in his face. His attorney, Cheryl Pilate, said in court filings that he could suffer during a lethal injection process.

Koster told the bar association that there is no state power “more daunting or irrevocable” than carrying out the death penalty.

“Lethal injection relies upon an uneasy cooperation between medical professionals who assist in the executions, pharmaceutical companies that provide the chemicals, and the state that is ultimately responsible for coordination of executions and on whose legal authority the process is carried out,” Koster said.


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