Missouri Executions: State May Return To Gas Chamber

Missouri executions may have to return to being performed in the gas chamber, according to Missouri state Attorney General Chris Koster. In court filings and public comments this week, the frustrated Koster warned about the consequences of endless wrangling over the death penalty in Missouri courts.

Missouri has been mired in controversy for more than a year as a result of a May 2012 announcement that the state would retire a 3-drug lethal injection cocktail and replace it with a lethal dose of propofol in order to carry out executions by lethal injection. Propofol, of course, is the anesthetic that rose to infamy as the drug that killed singer Michael Jackson.

At that time, there were 19 men awaiting execution on Death Row. However, the state couldn’t go ahead with their deaths because drug makers refused to sell them one or more of the drugs needed in the cocktail.

But propofol manufacturers also object to having their drug used to carry out the death penalty.

According to CBS St. Louis, there are now 21 prisoners on Missouri’s death row, and the argument about how to execute them continues to move slowly through the courts.

On Monday, Attorney General Koster asked the Missouri Supreme Court to go ahead and set two execution dates before the state’s supply of propofol expires.

The last time a prisoner was executed in the gas chamber in Missouri was in 1965. The gas chamber has been long demolished. Thus, if the state allows its lethal injection drugs to expire, it would require an expensive process to rebuild another.

Koster’s argument is that the endless court wrangling is a way to make an end run around the state’s death penalty laws. The Kansas City Star quoted from one of the State Attorney’s motions filed Monday:

“This court should not allow the mere pendency of ongoing federal litigation to effectively eliminate capital punishment in Missouri simply because the lawsuits outlast the department’s supply of propofol.”

On Tuesday, he expanded on that threat, stating that the state of Missouri only allows two methods for executions — lethal injection or the gas chamber. If endless lawsuits keep the state tied up in court until the drugs expire, he said that the gas chamber “may be the last option we have to enforce Missouri law.”

Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Russell said last week that Missouri courts were waiting for an answer from the US District Court.

But if the courts are reluctant to make a ruling, the Missouri executions may remain in limbo.

[Santa Fe, New Mexico gas chamber photo via Wikimedia]