ST. LOUIS — Lawyers for five death row inmates are pressing Missouri to be able to depose members of its execution team to explore their competency after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch revealed that a nurse on the team was a convicted stalker.
The lawyers filed papers last week in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, arguing that the executioner’s criminal record raises questions about his ”temperament and suitability” to help with executions.
The Post-Dispatch identified the nurse in a story last week, revealing that he was on a probation in 2001 when he worked on Missouri executions and was allowed to join a federal team that executed Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in Indiana.
The Post-Dispatch identified the nurse, in spite of a new state law that prohibits ”knowingly disclosing the identity of a current or former member of an execution team.” The law was passed after the Post-Dispatch identified a doctor on the execution team who measured lethal drugs but is dyslexic.
Editor Arnie Robbins said identifying executioners brings important transparency to the process.
”We believe the law is unconstitutional, and we also believe it stifles public discussion and hinders governmental accountability,” Robbins said in an editor’s note published Jan. 13.
The Associated Press chose not to identify the nurse because a reporter could not contact him. The man’s home phone number was disconnected and his employer refused to comment or make the nurse available.
The nurse was charged in 1998 with felonies for allegedly stalking and damaging the property of a man who had a relationship with his estranged wife. He pleaded no contest to misdemeanors and received a suspended imposition of sentence. That cleared his record once he served two years of probation. A check of the nurse’s license record showed no discipline.
State and federal prison officials knew of the nurse’s criminal background, according to internal Missouri Division of Probation and Parole memos obtained by the Post-Dispatch.
Those circumstances raise questions about the state’s screening procedures and desire to have qualified executioners, claimed lawyers for convicted killers Reginald Clemons, Richard Clay, Jeffrey Ferguson, Roderick Nunley and Michael Taylor.
Attorneys in Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon’s office, which represents the Department of Corrections, have argued against giving the death row appellants more than general information about execution team members.
A state law enacted last year protects the identities of current or former executioners and makes it easier for them to seek civil damages if their names are exposed.
”The issues raised in this motion will be dealt with in the ongoing litigation with the Department of Corrections,” John Fougere, a spokesman for Nixon’s office, said.
Lawyers for the condemned have argued that their right to information in a federal suit supersedes state law. In last week’s filing, they argued that they should not have to rely on the news media for disclosures about executioners’ backgrounds.
Three St. Louis-area legislators on a committee that oversees the Department of Corrections criticized the agency for letting a probationer work at executions.
The legislators, Sen. Maida Coleman, D-St. Louis; Sen. Harry Kennedy, D-St. Louis; and Rep. Belinda Harris, D-Hillsboro; said they would raise questions within the committee, which has the authority to investigate the department and compel testimony from officials.
But the chairman of the committee said he did not think there would be any official inquiry.
”If I would have proof that maybe the board of nursing took disciplinary action on this person, I think it might be a different situation,” said Rep. Mark Bruns, R-Jefferson City. ”Given the limited information I have on it right now, I don’t think it would be prudent for the committee to launch an investigation into it.”