ST. LOUIS — A federal judge is allowing a lawsuit to move forward that challenges Missouri's refusal to provide the name of the pharmacy where it acquired the drug for executions.
U.S. District Judge Beth Phillips on Thursday denied a motion from the Missouri Department of Corrections to dismiss a lawsuit filed in October by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. The ACLU lawsuit questions a state statute that prohibits identifying members of the execution team.
At issue is Missouri's refusal to provide the name of the compounding pharmacy that makes pentobarbital for executions. The state considers the pharmacy to be part of the execution team and won't say who makes the drug.
"Since we filed this lawsuit, five people have been killed by the state of Missouri in a procedure that has been shrouded in secrecy," Jeffrey A. Mittman, the ACLU-Missouri's executive director, said in a statement. "Decisions by the Department of Corrections about how to execute must be transparent and open to debate. This secrecy is an effort to avoid public scrutiny."
Nanci Gonder, a spokeswoman for Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, declined comment.
The issue of secrecy surrounding the suppliers of drugs for state executions has also surfaced in Texas. Earlier this week, a judge there temporarily halted the execution of a convicted serial killer, saying that the Texas prison system should disclose more information about where it gets lethal-injection drugs. A federal appeals court quickly reversed that decision and Tommy Lynn Sells was executed on Thursday.
Missouri changed its execution protocol in October. The state had planned to use the anesthetic propofol for executions. After an outcry from the medical community, Missouri switched to the sedative pentobarbital.
But as part of the change, Missouri also altered its protocol to include the compounding pharmacy that makes the pentobarbital as part of the execution team. As a result, the corrections department refuses to name the pharmacy that provides the lethal drug, citing state statutes.
Death penalty opponents say that without knowing the maker of the pentobarbital, or how it is tested, it is impossible to know if the drug might cause pain and suffering for the inmate. None of the five inmates executed by pentobarbital in Missouri showed any outward signs of distress.