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Missouri Looks Again at Lethal Injections

(CN) - The Missouri Supreme Court is taking a second look at the states lethal injection procedures. The court heard a second round of arguments by a group of 17 condemned prisoners, five relatives, three clergy and two lawmakers, who claim the new protocol is not valid because it was not adopted as an official rule by the Department of Corrections.

The Department of Corrections claims that the execution protocol is an internal management policy exempt from formal rule-making.

At issue are definitions of state law. Missouri law defines a "rule" to be an "agency statement of general applicability" that implements or interprets a law or describes agency procedures. Some things the state does consider as a rule include "a statement concerning only inmates" and "a statement concerning only the internal management of an agency that does not substantially affect the legal rights of, or procedures available to, the public."

Department of Corrections attorneys claim both statements apply to the new execution protocol. The lawyers argued that the new protocol affects not just inmates, but private-sector medical professionals hired to oversee executions, relatives of the condemned and witnesses to the execution.

Executions remain on hold in Missouri. The state once was an annual leader in executions, but none have been performed since October 2005. In 2006, a federal judge declared the state's execution procedure unconstitutional after the doctor who previously oversaw the executions admitted transposing numbers and operating without written procedures or supervision. In July 2006, the D.O.C. adopted written execution procedures that include precise amounts of chemicals and their order. A federal judge upheld the new protocol in 2008.

But the plaintiffs in this case sued in state court, claiming the protocol should have been adopted as a state rule, which would require a public comment period. A Cole County judge dismissed the suit in August 2008, but the group appealed.

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