Missouri lawmakers push for execution dates

Wednesday, April 16, 2008 | 9:29 p.m. CDT; updated 3:01 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Hours after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled lethal injections constitutional, powerful calls from Jefferson City went to the Missouri Supreme Court to restore the state’s death penalty and resume executions.

Gov. Matt Blunt and Attorney General Jay Nixon, the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor, have both called on the state Supreme Court to begin setting dates for the execution of 46 inmates on the state’s death row. They both issued press releases shortly after the ruling, urging executions to restart.

U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, and state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, both Republican gubernatorial candidates, also called on the state to begin setting execution dates for Missouri’s death row inmates.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 Wednesday that Kentucky’s lethal injection process, which is similar to Missouri’s, does not violate the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments.”

There has been no execution in Missouri since October 2005 because of a lawsuit filed against the state by Michael Taylor, a St. Louis-area death row inmate. Taylor’s suit alleged the state’s death penalty procedure was excessively painful.

U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. ruled in June 2006 that, under the current form, Missouri’s execution process presents an unreasonable risk of an excruciating execution, and he effectively suspended the death penalty in the state. Gaitan also ruled that the state must have an anesthesiologist present during the execution, a mandate the Missouri Department of Corrections said it could not meet because anesthesiologists feared breaking the Hippocratic oath, a pledge that prevents doctors from dispensing deadly medicine or advice.

The suspension was lifted in August 2007 after a federal appeals court overruled Gaitan. Since then, however, the state Supreme Court has not set any execution date, and the future of executions has remained uncertain.

Wednesday’s ruling could have a major effect on the state Supreme Court’s willingness to set execution dates for state inmates.

Brian Hauswirth, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Corrections, said the department’s lawyers are reviewing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 97-page ruling and will be for some time because of its extensive nature.

Hauswirth said that because the requirement of an anesthesiologist has been lifted, the state, which has appropriate medical personnel to administer the execution, is waiting on the state Supreme Court to set a date.

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