Mary Sanchez

Missouri is going too far on death penalty secrecy

Updated: 2014-01-13T02:37:51Z


The Kansas City Star

The executioner was always hooded.

Who fired the lethal shot? Who dropped the guillotine blade? Neither was revealed.

The modern equivalent still applies. But Missouri is stretching it to a ridiculous and possibly illegal level.

Missouri is so intent on carrying out state-sanctioned murder that it might wind up slammed for breaking federal law.

Last week, the U.S. attorneys of the Eastern and Western Districts of Missouri asked the Food and Drug Administration-Office of Criminal Investigations to look into Missouri’s efforts to shield the drug company that provides lethal-injection doses of pentobarbital. The move was prompted by questions from death-penalty opponents.

Privacy rights have long kept secret the identities of the prison guards and medical staff who administer lethal doses of drugs in death sentences.

Missouri insists that the companies providing death-sentence drugs deserve equal protection.

But these so-called compounding pharmacies are not highly regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Compounding companies more or less make copycat forms of regulated drugs. So the secrecy shields against backlash by death-penalty opponents, and questions of whether the facility is licensed properly.

That’s a problem. And Missouri arrogantly won’t address it.

In December, a judge at the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals criticized the state’s efforts as “using shadow pharmacies hidden behind the hangman’s hood.”

A recent investigation by St. Louis Pubic Radio and the St. Louis Beacon upped the ante by pinpointing a compounding company in Oklahoma as the state’s possible, unlicensed source.

On Monday, Kansas City Rep. John Rizzo plans to introduce legislation that will halt executions until the issue can be decided. That’s the right move. Another execution is scheduled for Jan. 29.

This legal cat-and-mouse game between Missouri and death-penalty opponents has gone on long enough.

Bigger drug companies don’t want their products used in death sentences. They don’t want to risk backlash that could make the drugs less available for their intended, life-saving purposes. That’s an ethical stand.

Missouri has a shadier approach.

In chasing down new drugs and new distributors for them, it’s reaching to questionable sources, then hiding from the scrutiny.

To reach Mary Sanchez call 816-234-4752 or email

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