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Missouri’s high court declines to hear case on whether execution drug suppliers can remain secret

File photo | Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri's execution chamber is located at the Eastern Reception Diagnostic and Corrections Center in Bonne Terre.

The Missouri Supreme Court said Tuesday that it won’t hear a group of lawsuits that aims to force the state Department of Corrections to release the name of the pharmacists who supply the state’s lone execution drug, the sedative pentobarbital.

The case declined by the high court was an appeal of a Feb. 14 ruling by the Missouri Court of Appeals.

The plaintiffs, including former Democratic state Sen. Joan Bray and a group of local and national media outlets, had argued the name of the pharmacists should be released under the state’s Sunshine Law. The groups said they’ll now argue that the state is violating the First Amendment by not making the information public.

The Department of Corrections, which didn’t immediately return a request for comment, has argued that making the pharmacists’ names public will prevent the state from carrying out lawful executions. The next execution is scheduled for Aug. 22.

Missouri, like many states, has had difficulty finding lethal injection drugs after pharmaceutical makers began refusing to provide them. The state has resorted to using largely unregulated compounding pharmacies, often keeping the sources of the drugs secret. The Department of Corrections hasn’t said how much pentobarbital it possesses or when it expires. The state changed to a one-drug protocol in 2013.

Bernard Rhodes, an attorney for the media outlets, said Tuesday there is a “constitutional right as representatives of the public to know what the state is doing and how the state is using taxpayer dollars to buy the lethal injection drugs it uses to execute prisoners.”

The Feb. 14 decision came in three parallel cases that sought the names of the pharmacists. One of the cases was brought by five news organizations: the Associated Press, The Kansas City Star, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Springfield News-Leader and The Guardian, while the other lawsuits were filed by Bray, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the American Civil Liberties Union and Christopher S. McDaniel, formerly of St. Louis Public Radio.

Rhodes also said  the state needs to be transparent about where pentobarbital, especially because the suppliers may be going against drug makers’ wishes. Two pharmaceutical companies asked Arkansas earlier this year to stop using their drugs for executions.

“We are not aware of any legitimate manufacturer of the drug that the state uses which allows its drugs to be used for this purpose,” he said.

Dan Margolies at KCUR contributed to this report.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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