Death Penalty
5:45 pm
Tue April 22, 2014

Missouri Executes Sixth Inmate In Six Months

William Rousan, 57, was put to death this morning for killing a couple, Grace and Charles Lewis, at a southeast Missouri farm in 1993.

It was the state's sixth execution in six months -- a dramatic uptick from years past. According to our examination, Missouri will set a record next month when it carries out seven straight months of executions.

Credit California Department of Corrections

Rousan's attorneys had asked the courts to halt his execution, but the prospects always looked slim. A federal judge and an appeals court denied his requests for stays. Rousan then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which also denied his stay.

Reuters reports that Rousan's attorneys said in their petition to the highest court that the state intended to use "compounded pentobarbital prepared by an unknown person in an unknown manner, without any assurance by an accredited laboratory that the substance is what the state purports it to be."

"Death, of course, is the goal of an execution." said the appeal. "But it may not be inflicted in a manner that presents a 'substantial risk of serious harm.''

As the Associated Press has reported, "Rousan was sentenced to death for killing 62-year-old Grace Lewis, of rural St. Francois County, in 1993. He was sentenced to life in prison for killing her 67-year-old husband, Charles. The killings were part of a plot to steal cattle from the Lewis farm near Bonne Terre — just a couple of miles from the prison where Rousan faces execution."

Rousan and his fellow death row inmates have raised concerns over the quality of the execution drug that will be injected into them. The quality of the drug matters so as to ensure a quick death without undue suffering.

The state is relying not on a drug manufacturer to supply the drug, which would be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, but instead on a compounding pharmacy whose identity is being kept secret.

Compounding pharmacies are prohibited by law from attempting to create a copy of a manufactured drug, like Missouri's execution drug is. Their products also have a significantly high failure rate.

So far, the courts have not been convinced by the issues raised by lawyers of death row inmates that the drug could put them through severe pain, although some federal judges have remarked that "from the absolute dearth of information Missouri has disclosed to this court, the 'pharmacy' on which Missouri relies could be nothing more than a high school chemistry class."

The state maintains that the supplier would not be willing to sell for executions if its identity were revealed. Other states that carry out executions at a high rate -- states like Oklahoma, Texas and Florida -- also shroud their supplier in secrecy. Those states are grappling with similar legal issues.

In Oklahoma, for instance, the state supreme court has stayed the executions of two men over similar secrecy concerns. The stays follow an Oklahoma judge's ruling that the execution secrecy statute was unconstitutional. That ruling has been appealed.

The trend was recognized by 8th Circuit Judge Kermit Bye in his dissent Tuesday.

"I note the recent rise of questions regarding drug efficacy and secrecy in other states outside our circuit, including Georgia, Ohio, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Texas," Bye wrote, enumerating why Rousan's execution should be delayed.

"Missouri is not exempt from these concerns. Rousan has raised serious issues as to Missouri's current execution method, and, based on Missouri’s representations, the potential for irreparable mistakes will only grow as the number of drug compounders electing to supply chemicals used in executions continues to shrink. With so much at stake, federal courts must diligently work to ensure states such as Missouri employ constitutional methods."

The appeals court judges that denied the request for a stay did not elaborate.

Our December investigation revealed the state's then-supplier was not licensed to sell in the state. We later discovered the compounding pharmacy had been cited in the past by regulators.

The Oklahoma pharmacy was sued, and eventually settled out of court, agreeing not to sell for Missouri's upcoming execution.

The state announced that it had found a new supplier and has kept any information about the new pharmacy hidden from the public's view.

The battle over the constitutionality of Missouri's execution and methods and the secrecy that surrounds them is not going away any time soon. Although the state has carried out several executions, the trial over the constitutionality doesn't take place until September.

Follow Chris McDaniel on Twitter@csmcdaniel 

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