ST. LOUIS — The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to hear a case questioning the constitutionality of Missouri's death penalty method, and Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said he would now seek an execution date for a convicted killer.
The top court's ruling was the last legal hurdle to resuming executions in Missouri, Koster said. He asked the state Supreme Court to set an execution date for Joseph Franklin, a white supremacist responsible for several killings, including the sniper shooting of a man outside a suburban St. Louis synagogue in 1977.
"Today's decision clears up any lingering ambiguities related to the constitutionality of Missouri's death penalty protocols," Koster said in a statement. "Legal hurdles have held the imposition of justice in Missouri in abeyance for 12 months. With today's ruling, these hurdles have been set aside."
Jennifer Herndon, an attorney for several death row inmates, disagreed. She said another lawsuit questioning the legality of Missouri's fatal three-drug cocktail is still pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Our position is we have another lawsuit pending that is in the middle of discovery, and now is not the time to resume executions," Herndon said.
Beth Riggert, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Supreme Court, said there was no way to predict if or when the court would set an execution date for Franklin.
The lawsuit filed by death row inmate Reginald Clemons and joined by Franklin and several others on Missouri's death row challenged the training and competence of Missouri's execution team.
In 2006, a federal judge declared Missouri's lethal injection process unconstitutional after the surgeon who was overseeing executions testified he sometimes transposed numbers and operated without written procedures or supervision.
Mistakes, the lawsuit argued, could result in prisoners being insufficiently anesthetized and cause undue harm and suffering during the execution process.
The state Department of Corrections responded by adopting written procedures detailing the precise amounts and order of the chemicals to be injected. A federal judge upheld the protocol in 2008, and the state Supreme Court later upheld the process by which Missouri adopted the execution procedures.
In November, a three-judge appeals court panel rejected the lawsuit. The Supreme Court's decision not to hear it essentially ended the case.
Missouri executed 66 men from 1989 through 2005. There has been just one execution since then while lawsuits over the protocol were pending.
Franklin, now 60, was convicted in 1997 for shooting and killing Gerald Gordon, who was standing in the parking lot of a St. Louis area synagogue after a bar mitzvah. Franklin also was convicted of shooting two other men who were in the synagogue parking lot. They survived.
While Franklin could be executed for his crimes in Missouri, he also was convicted in the murder of two African-Americans in Utah, the murder of an interracial couple in Wisconsin and the bombing of a synagogue in Tennessee. He has claimed responsibility for the 1978 shooting of Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler magazine.