Saturday, 19 January 2008

Inmates seek IDs of executioners

Inmates seek IDs of executioners


Lawyers for five death row inmates are pressing
Missouri to provide the names of members of
its execution team after a Post-Dispatch
investigation revealed that one was a convicted

In papers filed last week in federal court in Kansas
City, the lawyers said the executioner's criminal
record, detailed in a front-page story Jan. 13,
raises questions about his "temperament and
suitability" to help with executions.

The newspaper reported that David L. Pinkley,
a licensed practical nurse then on probation,
worked on Missouri executions and was
permitted to join a federal team that executed
Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in
Indiana in 2001.

Pinkley, originally
charged with felonies
for allegedly
stalking and
damaging the property of
a man who had a
relationship with his estranged wife, pleaded
no contest to misdemeanors and received a
suspended imposition of sentence. That
cleared his record once he served two years
on probation.

State and federal prison officials knew this
background, according to internal Missouri
Division of Probation and Parole memos
obtained by the paper.

Those circumstances raise questions about
the state's screening procedures and desire to
have qualified executioners, claimed lawyers
for convicted killers Reginald Clemons,
Richard Clay, Jeffrey Ferguson, Roderick Nunley
and Michael Taylor.

Attorneys in Missouri Attorney General Jay
Nixon's office, which represents the
Department of Corrections, have argued
against giving the death row appellants
more than general information about
execution team members.

State lawyers have invoked a Missouri state law,
enacted last year, protecting the identities of current
or former executioners, and making it easier for
them to seek civil damages if their names are exposed.

Lawyers for the condemned have argued that their
right to information in a federal suit supersedes
state law. In last week's filing, they argued that
they should not have to rely on the news media
for disclosures about executioners' backgrounds.

John Fougere, a spokesman for Nixon's office, said,
"The issues raised in this motion will be dealt with
in the ongoing litigation with the Department
of Corrections."

The death penalty is on hold in 35 states and
in the federal system while the U.S. Supreme
Court considers arguments in a Kentucky
lethal-injection case. The court is weighing
arguments that the injection could inflict
extreme pain, in violation of the Eighth
Amendment freedom from cruel and
unusual punishment.

In interviews after the Post-Dispatch story,
three St. Louis-area legislators on a committee
that oversees the Department of Corrections
criticized the agency for letting a probationer
work at executions.

The legislators, Sen. Maida Coleman, D-St. Louis;
Sen. Harry Kennedy, D-St. Louis; and Rep.
Belinda Harris, D-Hillsboro, said they would
raise questions within the committee, which
has the authority to investigate the department
and compel testimony from officials.

But the chairman of the committee said he did
not think there would be any official inquiry.

"If I would have proof that maybe the board
of nursing took disciplinary action on this person,
I think it might be a different situation," said Rep.
Mark Bruns, R-Jefferson City. "Given the limited
information I have on it right now, I don't think it
would be prudent for the committee to launch an
investigation into it."

A check of the nurse's license record showed no

Other members of the committee, which consists
of six senators and six representatives, either said
they had not read the Post-Dispatch story or did not
return a reporter's calls and e-mails.

Harris questioned the need for the state law
protecting executioners' identities, and said
the newspaper's findings alerted her to a problem.

"I go to Bonne Terre all the time" to inspect the
prison there, Harris said. "I never knew that there
was a person on the execution team who had
committed these violent acts."

When the Legislature passed a law protecting
executioners' names, "this is not what legislators
had in mind," she said.

She noted that the Department of Corrections had
made it seem that anonymity for executioners was
necessary to ensure it could attract and retain people
qualified for the job. But in comments to the
Post-Dispatch, agency Director Larry Crawford
said its story in July 2006 identifying another
execution team member had actually helped
the state recruit executioners.

Harris said Crawford's comments contradicted
his justification for seeking the law.
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