According to the outgoing Chief Justice of Missouri’s Supreme Court, it isn’t because of her ideology, or that of the Court, that Missouri has resumed executions in earnest.
Missouri has executed four people this year and 16 since November, 2013, with the state Supreme Court having set one execution date per month in that span. Missouri last year executed ten inmates; as many as Texas.
Mary Rhodes Russell has been Chief Justice during that time. Her term in that role expires today. Speaking about the legacy of her term, Russell said there are two factors that led to that series of executions.
“There’s been a backlog of people with the death penalty with appeals pending in the federal courts. Some of those appeals were pending and stayed because of a controversy over the method of execution, the drug that was to be used,” said Russell. “When those individuals with pending appeals had their cases heard and their cases resolved and their appeals exhausted, and the Department of Corrections went with pentobarbital as the drug of execution and it seemed to pass federal court constitutional standards, or muster, then there was a method of execution that was accepted and there were a number of people who had been backlogged whose appeals were exhausted.”
Russell said once those two circumstances were in place, the Attorney General’s office began filing motions for the setting of execution dates for those men.
“It’s required by law that the Supreme Court shall set execution dates. It’s not that we agree or disagree with the death penalty,” said Russell. “It’s the law and when we take the job to be a judge on the Supreme Court we take an oath to follow the law. Whether we like the law, which is written by the legislature, that’s their policy. We’re required to follow the law and do our job in the process.”
Missouri is next scheduled to execute David Zink on July 14, for the 2001 murder of Amanda Morton of Strafford.