The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

January 31, 2014

Our View: Secret drug

Some Missouri legislators are now calling for the return of the firing squad. Those are the kind of bills that draw attention and make our state the target of ridicule throughout the nation. They also generally are a waste of taxpayers’ time.

But there is a discussion that needs to take place about the death penalty, and that’s whether Missourians are OK with the secrecy that now surrounds the drug being used to carry it out.

Herbert Smulls, 56, who was convicted of murdering a St. Louis jeweler during a 1991 heist, was executed at 10:20 p.m. Wednesday in Bonne Terre, Mo., with a lethal injection. Smulls, according to The Associated Press, had been scheduled to die nearly 24 hours earlier, but the U.S. Supreme Court granted a one-day reprieve while it studied defense petitions challenging lethal injection because it relies on a loosely regulated, out-of-state compounding pharmacy for the drug it uses.

Smulls’ lawyer argued that the state must disclose the name of the pharmacy so it could ensure the integrity of the drug. But Missouri keeps that a secret. Smulls’ last efforts to halt the execution failed.

As pharmaceutical companies take steps to prevent the use of the products in executions, the shortage of willing drug suppliers has Missouri and other states turning to different types of drugs. Missouri is now using pentobarbital, a drug commonly used to euthanize animals. Smulls was the third Missouri death-row prisoner to be executed with the drug. Missouri buys its pentobarbital from an unnamed compounding pharmacy in Oklahoma. Oklahoma also keeps the source of its pentobarbital a secret.

Because of the secrecy and restricted public oversight, we expect every execution in the state to be challenged. It’s what prompted the bill calling for firing squads.

Transparency, in our view, must be present at all levels of government, but especially when it comes to carrying out death sentences.

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