JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Once one of the most active death penalty states in the U.S., Missouri carried out its first execution in nearly three years Wednesday after turning to a compounding pharmacy to make the drug it needs for lethal injections.
The state's success in court over its new execution method could lead to Missouri carrying out more death sentences. Although the Democratic governor and attorney general both support the death penalty, there have been few death sentences carried out in recent years and legal wrangling over execution procedures.
"The courts at this point have given Missouri a green light to proceed with executions that are scheduled," said Peter Joy, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis. "And barring either specific appeals related to some of the planned executions that may deal with issues unrelated to the execution protocol or courts revisiting the issue of the execution protocol that is now being used, basically there's green light and the door is open, and I anticipate more executions."
The execution of Joseph Franklin, a white supremacist responsible for slayings throughout the country, was the first lethal injection carried out in Missouri since 2011 and just the third since 2009. Missouri has another execution scheduled for December, which would make this the first year since 2005 that the state has carried out multiple death sentences. The attorney general's office has asked the Missouri Supreme Court to set execution dates for 17 others, with some requests dating back to 2006.
Franklin's execution went forward after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an appeals court's decision overturning two stays granted Tuesday evening by federal district court judges. It was the first time Missouri has used the single drug pentobarbital for an execution, and Franklin's lawyers had raised that as an issue in one of his appeals.
Like other states, Missouri had a hard time obtaining drugs used in executions when drugmakers stopped selling them to prisons. Last year, Missouri announced plans to use propofol, but it backed off that after an outcry from medical professionals concerned that supplies of the drug would dwindle if the European Union followed through on its threat to limit exports.
Missouri then turned to a compounding pharmacy to make pentobarbital, something states such as Texas also have done to carry out lethal injections. Few details have been made public about the compounding pharmacy Missouri is using because state law provides privacy for parties associated with executions.
Franklin was the 69th person executed in Missouri since it reinstated the death penalty. That's the fifth most in the U.S., behind Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma and Florida, according to figures from the Death Penalty Information Center. Since 1989, there have been seven years without an execution in Missouri — all but one within the past decade. About 50 people in Missouri are currently on death row.
The next execution is scheduled for Dec. 11. Allen Nicklasson is scheduled to die for the 1994 killing of Excelsior Springs businessman Richard Drummond, who stopped to help when a car used by Nicklasson and two others broke down on Interstate 70 in central Missouri.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union says it has litigated over Missouri's execution protocol and that will continue.
"The shroud of secrecy surrounding the state's execution process leads us to question its legitimacy," said Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director for the ACLU of Missouri. "Besides being overly furtive, the state also fails to give the public the opportunity to provide oversight of the execution protocol to ensure it is safe and appropriate."
Franklin, 63, was executed for killing Gerald Gordon in a sniper shooting at a suburban St. Louis synagogue in 1977. Franklin was convicted of seven other murders, but the Missouri case was the only one that brought a death sentence.