Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Missouri appears eager to resume executions in wake of ruling


ST. LOUIS (AP) - For nearly two years, Missouri's execution chamber has sat quiet. But a day after a federal appeals court lifted the moratorium on executions in the state, officials seem eager to restart the execution process.Gov. Matt Blunt said he was directing the Department of Corrections «to prepare execution procedures in compliance with the ruling.»

Meanwhile, Attorney General Jay Nixon, responsible for asking the state Supreme Court to set execution dates, was moving quickly.«This office will be moving forward to facilitate the process in a timely manner now that this legal roadblock has been cleared and will be determining which inmates' cases have progressed to the point where an execution date can be requested,» John Fougere, a spokesman for Nixon, said Tuesday.

The renewed effort comes after Monday's ruling by a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the state's three-drug procedure is not cruel and unusual punishment.Missouri was one of nine states _ including California, Ohio and Florida _ that had placed executions on hold while courts weighed the merits of the three-drug protocol.High on Missouri's list will likely be Michael Taylor, whose 1989 murder conviction prompted a lower court last year to impose a moratorium on executions in Missouri, citing concerns the procedure could cause undue suffering for the inmate.Taylor's attorney, Ginger Anders, said she will ask the full 8th Circuit to review the case and go to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.The appeals panel's ruling focused solely on the protocol, not the performance of duties in executing inmates, Anders noted.«We still do not know whether the personnel who will perform executions under the new procedures are competent or adequately trained _ but we do know that the state has proven that it cannot be trusted to employ competent, reliable executioners,» Anders said.

Injection has been the preferred method since the death penalty was renewed in the U.S. in the 1970s, and has been used in more than 900 executions across the U.S. Of the 38 states that have the death penalty, only Nebraska uses another method _ electrocution.The lethal injection debate centers on how three drugs are administered in succession. If the initial anesthetic does not take hold, a third drug that stops a condemned prisoner's heart can cause excruciating pain, it has been argued. But the inmate would not be able to communicate the pain because of a second drug that paralyzes him.

Corrections Department spokesman Brian Hauswirth said the execution procedure has been revised. The biggest change is the removal of a dyslexic doctor who previously oversaw administration of the lethal chemicals.The state has been unable to find another doctor to participate in the executions, largely because the American Medical Association has said such participation would violate a physician's oath. Hauswirth would say only that the Corrections Department «will have appropriate medical personnel» for the procedure.

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