Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Missouri bill bars identification of execution teams

Missouri bill bars identification of execution teams

JEFFERSON CITY — Legislation to keep secret the identities of people who carry out executions in Missouri gained initial House approval Tuesday.

The bill would make it illegal for anyone — including newspapers and other publications — to knowingly disclose the identity of those on a team that carries out executions, which in Missouri are done by injection. Violators could face misdemeanor charges.

The identities also could not be disclosed through the legal discovery process or subpoenas under the legislation. The state's execution protocol also would be a closed record, except for details on how the lethal chemicals are administered.

Supporters say confidentiality is needed to protect such people from retribution for doing their jobs.

"As long as this is the law of our state, whether people are for or against the death penalty is not the question here. The question is protection of our state employees who serve on the execution team," said sponsoring Rep. Danie Moore, R-Fulton.

Opponents of the legislation, including the Missouri Catholic Conference, say it cloaks the process in secrecy and prevents public oversight, even by the judicial system.

"There needs to be public assurance that the execution is being carried out in a competent, professional manner that respects the dignity of all involved," the Catholic Conference said in a letter to legislators Monday.

The Catholic Conference opposes executions in general.

Also under the bill, members of the execution team could not be reprimanded by professional licensing boards for their involvement in carrying out the death penalty.

The director of the Department of Corrections would determine who is a part of the execution team, and it could include prison employees and doctors or other medical professionals involved in the process.

State executions have been on hold since last year, as a court fight continues over an inmate's claim that the lethal injection process is unconstitutionally cruel. A federal appeals court heard arguments in the case in January but has not ruled.

U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. ordered specific reforms to Missouri's lethal injection procedures, including the use of a doctor specializing in anesthesia.

The lawsuit by Michael Taylor, who was to be put to death for the 1989 slaying of a teenage girl in Kansas City, revealed that the physician in charge — surgeon Alan Doerhoff of Jefferson City — decided to reduce the amount of sedative given to condemned inmates.

Taylor was convicted of kidnapping, raping and murdering a 15-year-old girl who was abducted while waiting for a school bus.

Doerhoff was first publicly identified in a Post-Dispatch article last summer as the doctor who has overseen Missouri executions for years.

Doerhoff, 62, had been reprimanded by the state Board of Healing Arts and denied staff privileges by two state hospitals. In June, Doerhoff told a federal judge that dyslexia caused him at times to confuse numbers and call drugs by the wrong name. But he later denied it, saying only that he sometimes transposes long numbers.

The lethal injection bill is HB820.

Mo. Execution Doctor Had History of Errors

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