KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri can keep the supplier of its lethal injection drugs secret, a federal appellate court ruled on Thursday, reversing its own ruling earlier that the supplier must be revealed.
A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis overruled a Sept. 2 ruling by the same judges that the state must disclose its pentobarbital supplier to two Mississippi death-row inmates suing for the information.
At that time, the panel rejected as "inherently speculative" Missouri's claim that revealing how it gets the powerful sedative could crimp its ability to obtain such chemicals for future executions.
But the 8th Circuit granted Missouri a rehearing and on Thursday found that the state — and more notably the drug's supplier, identified in court filings only by the pseudonym "M7" — has made a more persuasive case than its previous arguments.
The supplier insisted in court filings since the Sept. 2 ruling that it no longer would provide pentobarbital to Missouri or any other state if its anonymity vanishes, ultimately swaying the 8th Circuit to side Thursday with Missouri. M7 would not do business with Mississippi if its identity were public, the court found, so the suing inmates' don't need for the supplier's name.
"We conclude that the harm to MDOC (Missouri) clearly outweighs the need of the inmates, and disclosure would represent an undue burden" on Missouri's prison system, the appellate court found.
Condemned Mississippi inmates Richard Jordan and Ricky Chase subpoenaed the Missouri details as part of their federal challenge of Mississippi's three-drug execution protocol, which they describe as torturous and unconstitutionally cruel.
Arguing that Mississippi consider adopting a one-drug execution method as Missouri, Texas and Georgia have done, the inmates have sued those states for specifics about their execution drugs. Their subpoena to Missouri seeks details including where it gets its pentobarbital, hoping to meet their legal burden of showing there's an available alternative to Mississippi's execution protocol.
Jim Craig, attorney for the inmates, said Thursday that he and a colleague were assessing their options following the 8th Circuit's latest ruling, which he insisted "creates a Catch-22 situation for any condemned prisoner challenging their state's methods of execution."
"The prisoner is told to demonstrate that there are available alternatives to their own state's method, but the only real alternatives are those used by other states," said Craig, of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans. "If our Mississippi clients are not allowed discovery into the methods used by other states to execute prisoners, then the (U.S.) Supreme Court needs to revisit that requirement."
Thursday's ruling came a day after Missouri's Supreme Court scheduled a January execution for a man convicted of the 1998 killings of a woman and her two children. Mark Christeson's lethal injection is the only one scheduled of 25 condemned inmates in Missouri, where the last execution was in May.