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St. Louis Public Radio's Chris McDaniel and Véronique LaCapra have been investigating Missouri's execution process and the legal and ethical questions around how the state is obtaining its execution drug. Since most drug manufacturers don’t want their products used for lethal injection, Missouri has had to go to great lengths to find a supply. Read their extensive reporting below and related stories from the St. Louis Public Radio newsroom.

Missouri Executes Inmate, Third This Year


At 12:01 Wednesday morning, Missouri executed inmate Jeffrey Ferguson, marking the state's fifth execution in as many months.

Ferguson was put to death for the brutal murder and rape of a 17-year-old St. Charles County girl. The crime occurred in 1989, and the victim’s father, Jim Hall, said the punishment was long overdue.

“It’s been 25 years of pins and needles," Hall said. "Every time the appeal went up, you waited to find out what happened. That’s exactly where we’ve been. But last month, he had an [execution] date and felt some of the fear that my daughter felt.”

Hall said he hoped the execution would give his family a sense of closure.

Ferguson made a brief written statement, asking for forgiveness, and thanking Corrections staff for their professionalism. According to news media witnesses, Ferguson moved his feet, took a few breaths and stopped breathing. He was pronounced dead at 12:11 a.m.

Hall praised Gov. Jay Nixon for pursuing the death penalty, both when he was attorney general and now as governor.

Under Nixon's direction, Missouri has carried out more executions in the past five months than it has in the preceding eight years. The state considers that it has come up with an appropriate method, and so far, no court has told it otherwise.

But the methods have been controversial. The state obtains its drug, pentobarbital, from a compounding pharmacy that it has tried to keep secret. A St. Louis Public Radio investigation revealed that the previous supplier was selling to Missouri without being licensed in the state. The Department of Corrections has withheld the new supplier's license.

The state's secrecy and reliance on compounding pharmacies (which aren't regulated by the Food and Drug Administration) are still being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court. Missouri death row inmates say the identity is important because the quality of compounded drugs can vary from batch to batch. The state says the identity of the supplier needs to be kept secret or the pharmacy wouldn't sell the drug.


Although the Supreme Court denied a stay, there was an important change from the previous executions: One additional justice voted for a stay. Justice Stephen Breyer joined Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg in advocating for the state to hold off on the execution. In the previous ones, Breyer voted against a stay.

That change could prove to be important in the future, as the high court is still weighing taking up the case. Unlike stays, which require five votes, it only takes four justices to decide to hear a case.

Follow Chris McDaniel on Twitter@csmcdaniel 

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