Secret Execution Drugs Used Again in Missouri

Credit: CACorrections/wikimediaCredit: CACorrections/wikimediaEarly this morning, Michael Taylor became the fourth inmate in four months to be executed by the state of Missouri with drugs obtained from unknown sources. Taylor was on death row for abducting, raping, and murdering a 15-year-old girl in 1989.

Missouri has a history of flouting the law when it comes to its recent executions. Last month, the state executed convicted murderer Herbert Smulls with pentobarbital that was likely illegally obtained from The Apothecary Shoppe, an Oklahoma compounding pharmacy not licensed to do business in the state of Missouri.

Missouri executed Smulls while his appeal was still pending in the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court denied Smulls’ final stay request at 10:24 p.m., but Smulls was pronounced dead four minutes earlier at 10:20 p.m. This was the third straight execution carried out by Missouri corrections officials while appeals were still being considered by courts. Taylor, however, was executed after his appeals were denied.

Little is known about the drugs used to execute these four men prior to their executions. Indeed, a number of states that still carry out the death penalty, including Missouri, have become much more secretive about where they have been procuring execution drugs from since European suppliers of the two FDA-approved drugs made them unavailable for executions in the United States in 2010 and 2011.

While Smulls and the other men were executed with drugs likely obtained from the Apothecary Shoppe, the compounding pharmacy agreed to not provide the state with drugs for Taylor’s execution. Last week, state officials announced they had obtained pentobarbital from another unnamed source. Information about the source and the drug is crucial to know, as unknown or untested drugs are more likely to result in a painful death, therefore resulting in cruel and unusual punishment.

Without this information, lawyers are left only to assume the state carried out this and previous executions in a way that respected the constitutional rights of the condemned.

A similar story will play out in Florida this evening. Tonight, Florida is set to execute Paul Howell, who was convicted of killing a state highway patrolman with a pipe bomb in 1992. Howell will be the fourth person executed in Florida with a new combination of drugs that have been challenged by lawyers of condemned prisoners as a violation of the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. So far, challenges to the state have been unsuccessful, and it’s likely that Howell’s execution will take place as scheduled.

In 2013, Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the “Timely Justice Act” into law, which seeks to accelerate the state’s death penalty process. The law requires the governor to sign a death warrant within 30 days of the conclusion of clemency review and schedule an execution date within 180 days after the warrant is signed. Florida currently has 403 inmates on death row. Since 1976, 77 men have been executed in Florida, and 24 Florida death row prisoners have been exonerated – more than any other state.

Recent executions in Missouri and Florida highlight a troubling trend that’s been taking place across the country. States, with little to no oversight, are shoving new and experimental drugs into criminals’ veins while keeping information about these drugs a closely guarded secret.

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  • Hugh Akston||

    States, with little to no oversight, are shoving new and experimental drugs into criminals’ veins while keeping information about these drugs a closely guarded secret.

    Who knows what health risks these drugs could pose to death-row inmates.

  • Swiss Servator, mehr Käse!||

    *rises to applaud*

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Will thEse drugs cause them to rise from the dead up to a year later?

  • SIV||

    Recent executions in Missouri and Florida highlight a troubling trend that’s been taking place across the country. States, with little to no oversight, are shoving new and experimental drugs into criminals’ veins while keeping information about these drugs a closely guarded secret.

    I can fully understand being opposed to capital punishment but what is this whine about "unregulated/no oversight/experimental" drugs doing in a libertarian magazine?

    It's like crying that a hangman's noose isn't made with fair-trade organic hemp.

  • Tonio||

    Oh, I don't know, SIV, something about a constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, perhaps? You can't know if the execution was cruel unless you know the drugs being used.

    To turn your argument around (heh), are you really claiming that a state department of corrections is competent to make that sort of decision absent medical advice in a forum in which the competence of government is routinely questioned?

    Having said all that I have no sympathy for murderers, rapists, etc, but don't trust the state with the power of execution for fear it would be misused. And the number of cases where genetic evidence has later proved that innocent people were executed is such that I would far rather err on the side of caution and let these people live out there lives incarcerated.

  • Tonio||

    Their, dammit.

  • Swiss Servator, mehr Käse!||

    The G is really good at killin'.

    I think the objection to the drugs obscures the larger point - which is what you aand others here have pointed out...
    can we trust the State to do this in the first place?

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    You can't just assert that lack of knowledge about a drug rises to "cruel AND unusual punishment".

  • ||

    ---"Having said all that I have no sympathy for murderers, rapists, etc, but don't trust the state with the power of execution for fear it would be misused"---

    This is the ONLY reason I oppose the death penalty. I came to this conclusion, oddly enough, in the Timothy McVeigh case. Just days (or hours) before the scheduled execution, the prosecutors discovered some boxes of evidence that they had neglected to turn over to the defense. Now granted there was no exculpatory evidence and McVeigh was clearly guilty, I realized that considering all of the resources devoted to the prosecution of and defense of McVeigh, they still got it wrong on the procedural part. What chance does some poor schmuck with a Public Defender and an Asst. DA have of being sure he gets a fair trial.

    Until the Gov't shows they can get things right 100% of the time, don't kill in my name.

  • Jeff R.||

    "It's like crying that a hangman's noose isn't made with fair-trade organic hemp."

    .005 Bitcoins for that line, sir.

  • ||

    I don't really give a shit about "unlicensed drugs". I give a shit that they government is killing people in the first place. It's far too incompetent to be given that ability.

  • Hugh Akston||

    "Murder isn't working, and that's all we're good at."

  • ||

    "Eternity with nerds. It's the Pasadena Star Trek convention all over again."

  • Andrew S.||

    I'm a 10th Level Vice President!

  • Jerry on the boat||

    +1 drone strike.

  • Pavlov's Cat||

    I give a shit that the government is killing people in the first place. It's far too incompetent to be given that ability.

    Once past that, I really don't understand why they don't administer three quick doses of 230 grains of lead through a .410 gauge needle directly to the brainpan.

  • Grand Moff Serious Man||

    Nitrogen gas asphyxiation would be guaranteed painless as well.

  • Zeb||

    Seriously, why were complicated and expensive things like electric chairs and lethal injections ever needed when there were plenty of fast and effective ways to kill people already available?

  • SugarFree||

    Seriously, why were complicated and expensive things like electric chairs and lethal injections ever needed when there were plenty of fast and effective ways to kill people already available?

    Because all of them were used in public executions. As people started to feel a little guilty with the state killing in their name by using a legal system repeatedly shown to have massive flaws, the old methods of execution were phased out and new ones started being used in semi-public setting.

  • SIV||

    Faddish technology celebrating human achievement. The electric chair was for the electric age and he gas chamber for "better dying through chemistry".

    The Therapeutic State demands a psuedo-medical dispatch that's all warm and fuzzy like when we had to take Bosco or Patches to the vet to be put down.

  • R C Dean||

    Insightful, SIV.

  • ||

    Too much money. A single 22 short behind the ear would work just fine.

    Oh wait. I forgot, the price of 22s have gone through the roof.

    Never mind.

  • SIV||

    The NKVD preferred a .25 ACP to the base of the skull.They had so many political prisoners to kill that the occasionalrimfire misfire would throw off the whole production line.

  • Tonio||

    Oh, and I'll bet a dollar that the mystery drugs are veterinary grade sodium pentathol (or pentathiol) - the stuff that your vet uses to put fluffy and fido "to sleep."

  • Swiss Servator, mehr Käse!||

    I would not bet against you.

  • ||

    What? No, that can't be right. Fido just ran away is all.

  • Raven Nation||

    Bart: No! My hamster is living on a farm in upstate New York.

    Lisa: No Bart, your hamster died and dad buried it in the backyard. Although, not necessarily in that order.

  • SIV||

    There's nothing more cruel and unusual about using veterinary-grade, in lieu of human-grade drugs to execute someone.

    A consulting vet wouldn't have the same ethical conflict as a physician either.

  • ||

    I dont give a shit what happens to a guy who raped and killed a 15 year old girl, assuming he is guilty. I would have no trouble skinning him alive myself.

    I absolutely dont trust the system to determine guilt.

    Also, am I naive about how the system works? Why is the state killing people when they have appeals pending?

  • Almanian!||

    The Pony Express rider was delayed in Laramie and didn't get the message there in time...

  • Michael Ejercito||

    How many appeals do people get today versus 1870?

  • Almanian!||

    Also, "Secret Execution Drugs" wouldn't be a great band name, but it would be a great album title.

  • Anomalous||

    The FDA's concern with drugs is that they be safe and effective. For execution drugs, those two qualities are at odds: if it's safe, it's not effective, and vice versa.

  • R C Dean||

    The poison's in the dose, you know.

  • Andrew S.||

    The idiocy of the "Timely Justice Act" in Florida just reminds me of how depressed I am about the "choice" we're going to have for governor in November.

  • Zeb||

    Why don't they just use whatever the crap it is that veterinarians use to kill animals? That seems to work just fine and be readily available.

    Also, stop pretending it's some sort of medical procedure or something. It's cold blooded fucking killing. I'm against the death penalty for the reason that most people on here state. But I find the idea of lethal injection as execution method much more disturbing and chilling than a firing squad or a well executed hanging.

  • Jordan||

    Seriously. Or just pump the room full of carbon monoxide.

  • Tonio||

    The move towards lethal injections was in part due to several botched electrocutions in Florida which shocked the conscience of the courts on Cruel and Unusual Punishment grounds.

    I have mixed feelings about lethal injections, but given the cases of actual innocence I'd rather err on the side of as humane a death as possible.

    Also, there is nothing inherently cruel about pushing fluids into an organism; there is something inherently murderous about shooting or hanging a person. Remember the rule about government service attracting the worst sort of people?

  • dinkster||

    Difference is academic. Only some of the guns are loaded (blanks in others), versus the doctor that knowingly injects one of the three parts for lethal injection.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    I appreciate and respect the tactic of getting rid of the death penalty with an inescapable web of technicalities. The manufacturers of the "safe" (!) drugs are boycotting the death-penalty states, and the other drugs haven't been certified "safe". I don't like the death, and I realize that historically it's been abolished piece by piece - gradualism FTW.

    But I don't see why the *supporters* of the DP don't just say the defendant can choose from a broad menu of execution choices - "I am Jack Ketch and I will be your executioner this evening. Tonight we offer a fine variety of paths to the other side. Our special for the evening is lethal injection. We also have gas, hanging, shooting, guillotining, garroting, and dropping from a great height. If you prefer not to indicate a selection, we will serve you a hanging."

    This way, unless he's willing to claim *all* the execution methods are unconstitutional, the inmate has to formally designate whichever method of death he considers most humane. And if he doesn't choose and gets the default option, he won't be able to complain because he had the chance to elect some other method.

  • Homple||

    The states keep people on death row so long that "old age" is a possible choice.

    Seriously, if it takes decades for the government to decide if they should snuff people, maybe they aren't really sure they ought to be snuffed.

    So get rid of the death penalty.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Has it always taken decades?

  • thorax232||

    Wow..I had no idea any of this was happening. =/

  • Big Don||

    If you cared about the environment, you'd support hanging, with hemp or manilla rope, it's reusable!

  • dinkster||

    A legal dose of heroin wouldn't be such a rough exit. This is probably battery acid though.

  • dinkster||

    Lethal too

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