ACLU sues to lift secrecy over Missouri execution team

After a Post-Dispatch investigation seven years ago revealed the identity of Missouri’s lead executioner, exposing a history including public discipline from the state medical board and false statements in court, the Legislature took action.

It enacted a law to ban any person from “knowingly disclosing the identity of a current or former member of an execution team.”

The Department of Corrections announced on Tuesday it was adding a compounding pharmacy to the execution team and invoked the 2007 law protecting the pharmacy’s workers from disclosure.

On Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri sued in U.S. District Court in St. Louis to try to overturn the law so “we can post documents that identify execution team members on our website without fear of violating any statutes,” said its legal director, Tony Rothert. Under the law, an executioner whose identity was revealed could file a lawsuit and recover actual and punitive damages from the person who revealed the name.

Missouri has long struggled to find executioners and execution drugs with spotless histories. Most medical professionals and drug companies avoid being associated with taking lives.

ACLU sued the state this month for records of the state’s inventory of propofol, an anesthetic the state had planned to use in lethal injections to execute murderers Allen Nicklasson on Oct. 23 and Joseph Paul Franklin on Nov. 20.

The records showed the supplier of some of the propofol, Morris & Dickson, of Shreveport, La., had pleaded with the state nearly a year ago to return vials the company had shipped to Missouri in violation of its agreement with the manufacturer, Fresenius Kabi, of Germany, not to provide the drug for capital punishment.

The state finally returned the drug after the ACLU put the records on its web site. But it still had propofol manufactured by Hospira in stock from another supplier, Mercer Medical of suburban Seattle.

Then Hospira said it wanted its propofol back, too, because it had not authorized the sale to Mercer Medical. On Oct. 11, Gov. Jay Nixon postponed the Nicklasson execution and ordered the department to develop a new protocol. On Tuesday, the state announced it would use pentobarbital, commonly used to euthanize pets