Missouri execution looms after appeals over drug secrecy fail

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 22, 2014 9:59 PM

By Carey Gillam

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to stay the execution of a death row inmate in Missouri whose attorneys had argued that Missouri's secrecy around its lethal injection drugs could result in undue suffering for the inmate as he is put to death.

Following the court denial, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon denied a request for clemency, clearing the path for the state to go forward with the execution of William Rousan, 57, at 12:01 a.m. Central Time (1.01 a.m. EDT) on Wednesday.

Rousan was convicted of murdering 62-year-old Grace Lewis and her 67-year-old husband, Charles Lewis, in 1993 in a plot to steal the farm couple's cattle.

Eric Butts, an attorney representing Rousan, said there were no more avenues for appeal. "This is it," said Butts. "They (the Supreme Court) just are really not interested in the situation."

In their petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, Rousan's attorneys had said the state was planning to use "compounded pentobarbital prepared by an unknown person in an unknown manner, without any assurance by an accredited laboratory that the substance is what the state purports it to be."

Last year, Missouri started classifying compounding pharmacies as part of its execution team and said the identities of the pharmacies were thus shielded from public disclosure.

But the attorneys argued that Rousan has a right to know what he will be injected with.

Similar arguments have been made on behalf of inmates in other states, and on Monday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court halted the executions of Clayton Lockett, scheduled for Tuesday, and Charles Warner, scheduled for April 29. The court said the inmates had the right to have an opportunity to challenge the secrecy over the drugs Oklahoma intends to use to put them to death.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt filed a motion in the Oklahoma Supreme Court seeking a rehearing on the stay of execution order on Tuesday but the court denied the motion.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin then issued an executive order that seeks to compel the executions of both Lockett and Warner to go forward on April 29.

The controversy over lethal injection drugs comes as many states have started using lightly regulated compounding pharmacies for supplies because makers of drugs traditionally used in lethal injections have largely stopped making them available for executions.

Advocates for death row inmates say the convicts have a right to know the legitimacy of the supplier and details about the purity and potency of the drugs. And they say the compounded drugs, which are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, could lead to undue suffering that amounts to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Louisiana and Ohio have seen executions delayed this year because of concerns about suffering that might be caused by untraditional drug supplies. The family of one inmate executed in Ohio in January has filed suit against the state because, according to some witnesses, he took an unusually long time to die and appeared to be in pain.

(Reporting by Carey Gillam; Additional reporting by Heide Brandes in Oklahoma City; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Mohammad Zargham)