JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri's top corrections official defended the state's current execution procedures while telling lawmakers Monday the state could not carry out lethal injections if the name of the company that provides the execution drug wasn't kept secret.
Corrections Department Director George Lombardi told a House panel that it was vital to protect the identity of all those involved in executions, including the drug supplier.
"They made it very clear to us that we would not have people to carry out the mandated statutory requirement of the death penalty. They just wouldn't do it," Lombardi said.
Missouri and other states for decades had used a three-drug execution method, but pharmaceutical companies stopped selling the drugs in recent years for use in executions. Missouri eventually switched to pentobarbital, a powerful sedative acquired from a compounding pharmacy, which was used to execute serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin and Allen Nicklasson last year, and Herbert Smulls on Jan. 29.
The state considers the pharmacy to be a member of the "execution team," which protects its identity from public records requests filed under state law.
Lombardi said the state pays $8,000 in cash to the pharmacy for the drug. The department then pays for the batch to be independently tested to make sure it works and is sterile. He added that the department found no substantial issues in a background check of its current supplier.
Kansas City attorney Joseph Luby, who represents death row inmates, told the House Government Oversight and Accountability Committee that the protocol prevents defendants from getting information that would be critical in appealing their sentences. He said the department's decision to not reveal the compounding pharmacy's identity was "sleazy."
"The department's methods, contracts and practices have been shrouded in secrecy in a way that prevents meaningful public scrutiny," he said.
Luby also raised concerns that the last three lethal injections in Missouri had been conducted while the inmate's attorneys were in the process of asking a federal court for a stay.
That argument was countered by Dave Hansen of the attorney general's office, who said pending litigation is not a reason to delay or stop an execution.
"The offender's attorneys have developed a legitimate and very deliberate strategy to ensure there is always a stay motion pending during the course of a death warrant, which is a de facto repeal of the death penalty," he said.
Committee Chairman Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, said Monday's hearing was not about the death penalty itself but making sure the current method was carried out according to the Constitution.
But other state lawmakers are citing legal issues with the current method to propose changing the state's procedure. Bills have been introduced to halt executions until a special commission can develop new guidelines subject to legislative oversight. Other proposals would simply repeal the death penalty.
Lombardi bemoaned all of the attention surrounding the department over the state's execution procedures and said people should focus on the department's record when it comes to prisoner re-entry.
"This whole issue and the way our department has been besmirched and vilified in the press especially is really disturbing to me because this is not what this department is about," Lombardi said.
Missouri's next scheduled execution is that of Michael Taylor on Feb. 26. Taylor pleaded guilty in the 1989 abduction, rape and stabbing death of a 15-year-old Kansas City girl.