JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) – The Missouri Supreme Court has suspended the setting of execution dates until a complaint from 21 Death Row inmates is settled in Federal Court.
The inmates claim Missouri’s new lethal injection drug is unconstitutionally cruel and could force them to spend their final moments screaming in pain.
The state plans to replace its three-drug cocktail with just propofol, which is the drug that killed Michael Jackson. The propofol would follow a non-lethal dose of lidocaine, an anesthetic.
“The petition in that case raises issues, among others, concerning whether the newly adopted protocol violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, particularly in light of the protocol’s requirement that propofol be administered to cause the death of the offender,” the Missouri Supreme Court said in its order. “Until the parties promptly resolve the issue of the use of propofol as contemplated by the department of corrections’ protocol, ruling on the motion to set execution date is premature.”
Missouri is the only state to announce plans to use propofol, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposed capital punishment. Most states use a three-drug protocol, but five states – Arizona, Idaho, Ohio, Texas and Washington – have used a lethal dose of a single drug in executions: pentobarbital.
In 2006, a federal judge halted executions in Missouri after the supervising surgeon acknowledged that he was dyslexic and sometimes confused numbers and did not follow written procedures.
A St. Louis Post-Dispatch investigation showed that the surgeon had been publicly reprimanded by the State Board of Healing Arts, had been sued more than 20 times for allegations of medical malpractice and had made false statements in court.
In 2008, a federal judge allowed the executions to move forward after Missouri prison officials established a written procedure and said that an anesthesiologist would supervise executions.