The Corrections Department asked the State Supreme Court not to ask it to carry out more than one execution per month. The Supreme Court has honored that request and changed its own rules to reflect it.
A Corrections spokesman hasn’t acknowledged the request was made, but some who watch how the death penalty is carried out in Missouri have ideas why it was made.
Rita Linhardt chairs the board of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. She thinks one group the change would benefit would be the Corrections Department’s employees.
“The people down at Bonne Terre who are actually carrying out the executions,” Linhardt refers to specifically. “I would imagine that an execution is very disruptive to the normal prison routine, and so I would think the DOC needs time to prepare for this not just only logistically but also emotionally … so I would think this ruling of having no more than one a month would help in some way those type of burdens on DOC workers.”
A spokesman at the Missouri Correctional Officers Association says it has no comment on the rule change.
Linhardt thinks the one-per-month limit could also benefit attorneys who represent clients who are under a death sentence, who often represent multiple clients.
“They don’t even one want one (execution) a month, but the possibility that you could be facing two of your clients in the same month … I just think would be terribly emotionally draining,” says Linhardt.
Attorney John Mills is an attorney participating in a Saint Louis University law school study of the death penalty in Missouri. He says the Department could be sensing that Missourians’ limits would be tested by more frequent executions.
“The public may have a limit in what they will tolerate in terms of executions, and (the Department) may be feeling some pressure or may sense that the public may not be willing to tolerate more than one execution per month,” Mills tells Missourinet.
Mills concedes that it could be a matter of budgeting or staffing for the Department that makes multiple executions in a month too taxing on resources, though a Department spokesman declined to comment on whether that is a factor.
The rule change was ordered by Chief Justice Mary R. Russell. No commentary was provided explaining the rationale behind it.
Missouri currently has 41 men under a death sentence, meaning it would take at least three-and-a-half years for Missouri to execute all the men currently sentenced to death in the state.
Even before the rule took effect Missouri has been scheduling one execution every month since November 2013, with only one having been blocked by the courts. Executions have been scheduled to take place July 16 and August 6.
Missouri has not historically placed such limits on executions, though the last time two inmates were executed in the same month was in October, 2001, when Michael Roberts was executed on the October 3 and Stephen Johns was executed 21 days later.
On four occasions between 1938 and 1953 Missouri executed two people at the same time using lethal gas. Prior to 1938 when the state’s death penalty was carried out by hanging, sometimes two or more condemned individuals would be hung alongside each other.