Report: Missouri used midazolam in executions

Wednesday, September 3, 2014 | 2:59 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — As Missouri prepares for another execution next week, a new report suggests that the Department of Corrections quietly and repeatedly used a drug that has raised concerns in botched executions in other states.

Missouri's written one-drug execution protocol allows only for use of pentobarbital. The state has claimed that pentobarbital was the sole drug used in the deaths of nine condemned men since November.

St. Louis Public Radio reported Wednesday that the sedative midazolam also was part of the process in all nine executions, despite Department of Corrections director George Lombardi's comments under oath in January that the state "will not use" midazolam.

The report cites chemical log forms obtained through a Sunshine Law request showing that "Versed" was administered to each inmate. Versed is another name for midazolam. What isn't clear is whether it was used in the actual executions or to calm the nerves of inmates in the hours leading up to the executions.

Messages seeking comment from representatives for the corrections department were not immediately returned.

Earl Ringo Jr. is scheduled to die Sept. 10 for killing two people in Columbia in 1998. His attorney, Kay Parish, said she will ask the courts to halt the execution based on concerns raised by the St. Louis Public Radio report.

Parish said corrections officials "have insisted time and time again that the botched executions in Oklahoma, Arizona and Ohio have no relevance to what's going on in Missouri because they're not using the same drugs. That is an outright lie in light of the report that came out today."

Midazolam was used in the execution of Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire in January. He snorted and gasped for 26 minutes before dying. Clayton Lockett died of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after his execution with midazolam began in April. Arizona inmate Joseph Rudolph Wood gasped more than 600 times and took nearly two hours to die in July.

At a deposition in January, soon after McGuire's death, Lombardi was asked if backup execution drugs hydromorphone and midazolam would be used if Missouri ever ran short of pentobarbital.

"I'm testifying right now to tell you that will not be the case. We will not use those drugs," Lombardi said, according to documents from the deposition.

Death penalty opponents have criticized Missouri's procedure. The state refuses to name the compounding pharmacy where it obtains execution drugs or say if or how those drugs are tested.

Lombardi said in the deposition that Versed can be given as a sedative at the request of the inmate, the state or the execution team, often hours before the actual execution — long before media and other witnesses observe the execution process. Spokesman Mike O'Connell has said after several executions that inmates were given a sedative prior to the actual executions, without naming the sedative.

Jonathan Groner, a professor of surgery at the Ohio State University College of Medicine who has written extensively on the death penalty, said midazolam given prior to an execution could relax an inmate so much that they couldn't articulate if they were in pain during the process.

"If you have midazolam, he may not respond if he's uncomfortable," Groner said.

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Mark Foecking September 3, 2014 | 6:37 p.m.

It seems that midazolam was used as a sedative before the execution, not as part of the execution procedure. Several other benzodiazepine type drugs could have been used as sedatives. Its use doesn't seem to be relevant to failures in other states.


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