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The Lake News Online
  • Inmate challenges death penalty drug secrecy

  • The next Missouri death row inmate scheduled to die by injection wants a judge to halt his June 18 execution over concerns that the state's refusal to disclose its drug supplier violates a law protecting the public's right to know.
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  • The next Missouri death row inmate scheduled to die by injection wants a judge to halt his June 18 execution over concerns that the state's refusal to disclose its drug supplier violates a law protecting the public's right to know.
    An attorney for condemned inmate John Winfield asked a Cole County circuit judge on Wednesday to issue a preliminary injunction that would postpone the execution. The legal challenge argues that the Missouri Department of Corrections is violating state public records laws by keeping the identity of its execution drug supplier and other details secret.
    The state says such anonymity is vital to protecting the compounding pharmacy that supplies pentobarbital and its employees from retaliation, including possible physical harm.
    "There's not a more public act than executing a prisoner," attorney Joseph Luby told Judge Jon Beetem during a hearing in the state capital. "It's called the Sunshine Law for a reason. We have a strong policy of promoting open government."
    Beetem didn't immediately rule on the injunction request but said he expects to do so soon. The execution is in two weeks.
    The vast majority of the 32 death penalty states refuse to disclose the source of their execution drugs, citing similar concerns. But legal pressure against such secrecy is mounting as states have turned to lightly regulated compounding pharmacies after other drug manufacturers stopped supplying execution drugs for use in capital punishment.
    Winfield's request comes as the same judge considers three separate public record lawsuits over the identity of Missouri's drug suppliers. Plaintiffs include The Associated Press, The Kansas City Star, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a reporter for St. Louis Public Radio and retired Democratic state lawmaker Joan Bray of University City.
    In Oklahoma, a court agreed to a six-month stay of execution for a death row inmate after a botched lethal injection in late April during which the state used a new three-drug blend for the first time. Clayton Lockett died of a heart attack after his vein collapsed during the attempted execution. Oklahoma authorities have agreed not to carry out any executions until an investigation into Lockett's death is completed.
    And in Texas, a federal judge halted the scheduled execution of a serial killer and ordered the state to disclose the supplier of a new batch of drugs, as well as information on how those drugs are tested. A federal appeals court threw out that ruling hours later, leading to the death of Tommy Lynn Sells in early April after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to step in.
    Luby called the Missouri law protecting the identities of execution team members overly broad, noting that laws in states such as Georgia and Florida explicitly list those whose identities cannot be disclosed. Assistant state prosecutors Stephen Doerhoff and Gregory Goodwin countered that other Missouri laws include narrower exemptions through the use of the word "only" — meaning lawmakers intended to give state prison leaders the autonomy to decide who merits confidentiality as members of its "execution team."
    Page 2 of 2 - "The Legislature could have done that," Doerhoff said. "They did not."
    In addition to the public records challenge, Winfield has also asked a federal appeals court to halt his execution. The petition to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals claims that Missouri's lethal injection process violates his constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment.
    Missouri's next execution would be its first since another convicted killer, Russell Bucklew, was spared on May 21, when the U.S. Supreme Court sent his case back to the appeals court. Another execution is scheduled for July.
    Since November 2013, Missouri has executed one death row inmate every month using pentobarbital.

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