Updated at 5:50 a.m. Friday with additional reporting. Reporting from KRCU's Jacob McCleland was used in this story.
The anesthetic that caused the overdose death of pop star Michael Jackson is now the drug for executions in Missouri.
The Missouri Department of Corrections is switching from its longstanding three-drug method to a single drug, propofol, which has never been used in an execution in the U.S. That's causing a stir among critics lijke Death Penalty Information Center director Richard Dieter.
"It still must be done humanely, and the idea that you can simply substitute drugs that were never manufactured for this purpose I think deserves much more study," Dieter said.
Until recently, the 33 states with the death penalty used a virtually identical process: Sodium thiopental was administered to put the inmate to sleep, and then two other drugs stopped the heart and lungs. After the makers of sodium thiopental stopped selling it for use in executions, supplies ran out and states began seeking alternatives.
St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch, the president of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, calls the protocol change long overdue.
"It's about time we moved on and proceed with carrying out these sentences," he said. "I think this is a step in the right direction to do that."
- Our own Julie Bierach took a more in-depth look at the sodium thiopental shortage issue