ST. LOUIS — One day after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of lethal injection, Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon today asked the state Supreme Court to set execution dates for four death row inmates.
Missouri is among about three dozen states that use a three-drug execution method that opponents said violated the constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. But the High Court disagreed in a 7-2 decision on Wednesday.
There was no immediate word on if or when the state Supreme Court would act on Nixon's request. Spokeswoman Beth Riggert said all four defendants have an opportunity to file responses. "Beyond that, we consider them on a case-by-case basis," she said.
Nixon sought execution dates for convicted killers Mark Christeson, Martin Link, Earl Ringo Jr. and Dennis Skillicorn. He did not respond to an interview request.
Christeson killed Susan Brouk and her two children in Maries County in 1998. Link killed 11-year-old Elissa Self of St. Louis in 1991. Ringo killed Joanna Baysinger and Dennis Poyser in Boone County in 1998. Skillicorn killed Richard Drummond in Lafayette County in 1994.
Last June, Nixon sought execution dates for 10 other condemned killers: Michael Taylor, Roderick Nunley, Richard Clay, Reginald Clemons, Jeffrey Ferguson, Andrew Lyons, William Rousan, Russell Bucklew, John Winfield and John Middleton. The Supreme Court has not set execution dates for any of those men.
All told, 46 men are on death row in Missouri.
Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1989, Missouri has traditionally been among the top states in the number of annual executions. But as the courts have weighed the merits of lethal injection, the state hasn't performed an execution since Marlin Gray was put to death in October 2005.
Inmates in several states continue to have cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, though it is doubtful the court will hear most of them. One of the cases is out of Missouri and was filed on behalf of Taylor, convicted of abducting, raping and killing a 15-year-old Kansas City girl.
In both the Kentucky case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Missouri case, the debate centered on how three drugs are administered in succession. If the initial anesthetic does not take hold, a third drug that stops the heart can cause excruciating pain, it has been argued. But the inmate would not be able to communicate the pain because of a second drug that paralyzes him.
Taylor's attorney, Ginger Anders, said Taylor's case is different because it alleges problems not only in the three-drug protocol but in how Missouri administers the drugs.
Most executions in Missouri are over in just a few minutes. One exception occurred in 1995, when it took condemned killer Emmitt Foster 30 minutes to die. Authorities said a tight leather strap holding Foster down cut off the flow of lethal drugs.
The coroner involved in the case said at the time that Foster didn't suffer because his breathing stopped with the first injection. But others believe his death was protracted and painful.