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Senate panel reviews Missouri death penalty bills

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 | 8:09 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Proposals taking aim at Missouri's death penalty procedures were examined Wednesday by the Senate's only Democratic-led committee.

Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus, of Kansas City, said she plans to combine measures and get legislation that could potentially be debated by the full Republican-controlled chamber.

Justus has proposed creating an 11-member commission that would establish procedures and protocols for executions. Commission members would include a current or retired prosecutor and public defender, judges, health care workers and a crime victim advocate appointed by the governor. The commission would have one year and no executions would be carried out until then.

Another bill filed by Republican Sen. Rob Schaaf seeks to require that the Department of Corrections promulgate formal rules for carrying out executions. It also would bar officials from using cash to buy execution gas or chemicals and would forbid the inclusion of suppliers on the state's execution team. A state privacy law protects the identity of those on the execution team.

Missouri currently considers the pharmacy where it buys the drug used in executions to be a member of the execution team.

Corrections Department Director George Lombardi said last month in testimony before a House committee that protecting the identity of Missouri's drug supplier and all others involved in executions is vital. He said the state pays in cash and pays for the batch to be independently tested.

Department of Corrections officials did not testify Wednesday, and an agency spokesman did not respond to a message seeking comment.

For decades, Missouri used a three-drug execution method, but pharmaceutical companies stopped selling the drugs in recent years for use in execution. The state now has used pentobarbital, which it acquires from a compounding pharmacy.

Missouri carried out its first execution in nearly three years this past November. Since then, there has been an execution each month. The next execution is scheduled March 26 for Jeffrey Ferguson, who was convicted of abducting, raping and killing a 17-year-old in St. Charles County in 1989.

The Senate committee also reviewed a bill Wednesday that would abolish the death penalty.

Other senators this year have proposed measures that would give prison officials full discretion in deciding how to administer executions and seek to speed up the execution of those convicted of killing their kidnapping victim. The bills have not had a hearing.


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