Bill could prohibit disclosing executioner’s identity

The measure would also prohibit licensing boards from disciplining doctors who supervise executions.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:20 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

A bill awaiting Gov. Matt Blunt’s signature would make it illegal to reveal the name of an executioner.

The legislation, which passed the General Assembly last month, would allow any member of an execution team to sue for damages if their identities are disclosed without the consent of the director of the Missouri Department of Corrections. The legislation would also prohibit medical licensing boards from taking any disciplinary action against doctors who supervise executions.

Brian Hauswirth, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Corrections, said his agency backed the bill after a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article revealed the name of a doctor who had assisted with executions in Missouri since the 1970s. Hauswirth said the legislation’s purpose is to protect medical and other personnel who carry out executions.

“We have gang members we’ve executed,” Hauswirth said, “and the reason we want to keep the execution team members secret is that we fear harassment or retaliation against them.”

Hauswirth said he was not aware of any specific incidents in which doctors who supervised executions received threats.

“This is a precautionary measure,” he said.

Rep. Danielle Moore,R-Fulton, who sponsored the bill in the House, said it would make the death penalty more humane because better qualified doctors would be more likely to offer their services. By offering anonymity to doctors who supervise executions, Moore said, she hopes it will be easier for the Department of Corrections to get the best help.

“If we procure the best doctors to supervise, we can be sure drugs are administered in the proper order, that the whole procedure is being done properly,” Moore said.

Tom Holloway, director of government relations for the Missouri State Medical Association, said he doubts the legislation would make supervising executions more appealing to doctors. With or without anonymity, Holloway said most doctors just don’t feel comfortable participating in executions.

Doug Crews, executive director of the Missouri Press Association, said the legislation “boils down to a lack of accountability.”

“In my opinion, they’re trying to hide an embarrassment,” Crews said.

The Post-Dispatch article, published in January, revealed that the state’s execution doctor was dyslexic and often confused the names of drugs, had been sued for malpractice more than 20 times and had been disciplined by the state board of Healing Arts for failing to disclose malpractice claims against him to a hospital where he practiced.

Crews said the legislation, if signed into law, would prevent journalists from digging into such stories in the future.

In an editorial published on Saturday, the Post-Dispatch criticized the new law.

“Cloaking the procedure in secrecy is a terrible idea. Oversight by the public and the judiciary is necessary to ensure that the execution chamber does not become a chamber of horrors,” the editorial said.

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