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Lethal Injection

Missouri Attorney General Says State Should Make Own Lethal Injections

Bonne Terre

Missouri's attorney general says the state should mix the lethal injections to be used at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic & Correctional Center in in Bonne Terre, Mo. Jeff Roberson / AP file

Missouri's attorney general said Thursday that if the state wants to keep using lethal injections to execute prisoners, it needs to run its own pharmacy to make the deadly doses.

In a speech to a bar association, Chris Koster said lethal injection relies on "an uneasy cooperation" between medical professionals, pharmaceutical companies and state officials.

"In recent years, this cooperative arrangement has become so strained that continued use of lethal injection as the preferred execution method is currently being reconsidered in several states," he noted.

His solution is to cut out the middleman.

"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," he said.

"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."

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Missouri is among the death-penalty states that have been scrambling to obtain a steady supply of drugs since a number of pharmaceutical companies have stopped selling their products to prisons for execution.

Prison officials have increasingly turned to controversial compounding pharmacies to make the concoctions and are fighting to keep their sources secret to protect them against protest or legal hassles.

On Thursday, the Texas attorney general reversed three earlier rulings by its office and advised prison officials that they can withhold the name of the pharmacy that provides its drugs.

Defense lawyers said they need the pharmacy names so they can investigate them and make sure the drugs are properly prepared and won't cause excessive pain.

The U.S. Supreme Court halted a Missouri execution last week after the inmate, rapist-murderer Russell Bucklew, argued that a rare birth defect and the secrecy shrouding the source of the injection would combine to make his death torturous.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment, called Koster's proposal "a natural evolution."

"They are in a desperate situation," he said of death-penalty states. "I think they are trying to get better control over the situation."

State-run pharmacies would ensure prisons have a steady supply of the chemicals without having to cross state lines, sometimes with cash, to buy them from loosely regulated compounders.

But Dieter said not all the concerns that prisoners have raised in recent court battles would be alleviated.

"Who is the pharmacist? What are his or her qualifications? Will it be independently tested? Who's doing the testing?" he said.

Missouri's legislature is currently in recess and it was unclear if any lawmakers would take up Koster's recommendation.

Image: Sen. Chris Koster, D-Harrisonville, speaks during an election watch party, on Aug. 5, 2008 in Kansas City, Mo.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster Denny Medley / AP, file