A University of Missouri journalism professor wants more transparency in Missouri’s execution process.
The identities of those who carry out executions are protected by law in states that allow capital punishment, but many states also have laws protecting the identities of the makers of lethal injection drugs. Professor Sandra Davidson says these laws prevent transparency and Missouri is not alone.
“This umbrella of secrecy has been broadened, so that also now in Missouri, it is being interpreted as including the source of execution drugs,” said Davidson.
The State of Missouri says that law also covers the identity of the makers of its lethal injection drugs because they are part of the “execution team.” Davidson said doctors and anesthesiologists are not taking part in executions, and many pharmacists are also considering it to be a violation of ethics to take part in the process.
Davidson said she understands why executioners’ identities are kept private, but argues protecting the identities of execution drug makers is extending the umbrella of secrecy too far.
“I would like to see more transparency in the system, I would like to see the public know where these drugs are coming from,” said Davidson. “The problem is one of public oversight. These executions are done in the name of all of us, but yet we have no transparency in the system.”
Davidson said Missouri has not had a track record of botched executions, but reports in other states have been made public about lethal injections taking too long to work. Davidson said these kinds of executions could be classified as cruel and unusual punishments, but the public does not know for sure because the information about how those drugs work is kept private.
Davidson said Missouri, like many other death penalty states, has altered its lethal injection protocol because of a nationwide shortage of execution drugs.
“More and more states are having to turn to compounding pharmacies, which are not as heavily regulated as regular pharmacies by the FDA,” said Davidson. “So, the question becomes where are these drugs coming from, and also then, what about their efficacy?”
Davidson said the hope might have been that lethal injection would be more humane, but examples of botched executions in other states leave that in doubt. There have been multiple suggestions made as to how Missouri should change its execution process to get around the problems with execution drugs. One Missouri lawmaker has proposed the use of firing squads. Attorney General Chris Koster has suggested the state manufacture its own execution drugs or return to using lethal gas.
Missourinet reached out the Governor Jay Nixon’s office for comment, but it declined. Missouri Department of Corrections Communications Director David Owen also declined comment and only cited Missouri law, which says “any portion of a record containing identifying information related to a member of the execution team is privileged and not subject to discovery, subpoena, or other means of legal compulsion, or subject to disclosure.”