Suit challenges Mo.'s lethal injection
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Inmates, families, clergy and legislators claimed in a new lawsuit that Missouri's method of lethal injection violates state law. Meanwhile, a doctor who once performed executions in Missouri apparently has resurfaced in Arizona.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Cole County, said the Missouri Department of Corrections and director Larry Crawford did not comply with state requirements to provide public notice and invite comments on new execution procedures, or advise a legislative rules committee. The suit wants Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem to stop the state from executing anyone until it has followed state law on promulgating rules.
The Corrections Department declined to comment. However, the lawsuit includes a statement signed in June by Patricia Cornell, deputy division director of Missouri's adult institutions. It says the state's lethal injection protocol is not subject to the Administrative Procedure Act because it falls within two exceptions of the definition of a rule.
In a separate but related matter, the dyslexic Missouri surgeon who participated in dozens of executions in his home state before a federal judge banned him two years ago over concerns resulting in an execution moratorium, apparently participated in Arizona's most recent execution last year.
The Arizona Republic reported Thursday that Dr. Alan Doerhoff is believed to have taken part in a May 2007 execution in Arizona, less than a year after U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan halted Missouri executions and Doerhoff's involvement in them, citing concerns about the doctor's abilities and standards.
The newspaper reported Doerhoff's signature appears on an electrocardiogram tape that recorded inmate Robert Comer's last heartbeats, suggesting the doctor at least monitored the condemned man's condition as he died.
The paper said Doerhoff's technique -- administering the lethal chemicals through a catheter in the groin rather than an arm -- appear to have influenced Arizona's new procedures for execution by lethal injection.
Critics say the technique contributes to greater risk of error that could lead to undue suffering. The paper cited lethal injection expert Mark Heath, a Columbia University anesthesiologist, that the practice occurs only in Missouri and the federal prison in Indiana, where Doerhoff has participated in executions.
Neither Doerhoff nor the Arizona Department of Corrections returned calls for comment. Arizona Corrections Director Dora Schriro formerly oversaw Missouri prisons.
The lawsuit in Cole County was filed on behalf of 13 of the 14 condemned prisoners for whom Missouri is seeking execution dates, including a man who could be executed in less than two months.
Others joining the suit include other death-sentenced prisoners, relatives of the condemned, clergy members and two state legislators.
The Missouri Supreme Court announced Tuesday it would issue a warrant to execute convicted murderer John Middleton on Sept. 17. It would be the state's first execution since 2005.
The lawsuit does not challenge the death penalty or any prisoner's death sentence. Rather, it says the Corrections Department deprived citizens and legislators "the opportunity to ensure that executions are carried out properly and humanely when performed in the people's name ... a matter of great public interest."
Previous lawsuits have challenged lethal injection on the grounds it violates constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
Missouri and a number of other number of states that use lethal injection withheld executions while the U.S. Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of the procedure.
The Supreme Court in April upheld it, but left the door open to challenging lethal injection procedures in states where problems with administering the drugs are well documented.
Earlier this month, federal Judge Gaitan ruled that Missouri's method of executing condemned prisoners by injection is constitutional.
Joining the latest suit, besides Middleton, are 12 condemned prisoners who are on track to be among the first to be executed: Russell Bucklew, Michael Taylor, Jeffrey Ferguson, Richard Clay, Reginald Clemons, Roderick Nunley, William Rousan, John Winfield, Dennis Skillicorn, Earl Ringo, Martin Link and Mark Christeson.
Also joining are Death Row inmates Allen Nicklasson, Paul Goodwin, Vincent McFadden and Kevin Johnson; five spouses or relatives of the condemned; three clergy members; and two legislators, Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis, and Rep. Connie Johnson, D-St. Louis.