Missouri in recent years has delivered the death penalty via lethal injection more than any other state except Texas.
And yet, state officials argue they should be able to do so without providing specifics of the life-ending process. This is a blatant disregard for the public’s right to know.
Prison officials probably are steeled by a recent decision handed down by the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, which overturned a trial court’s ruling last year that the state was violating the Sunshine Law. The latest decision revolved around whether the pharmacists who provide the drugs used for lethal injection are shielded by that law, which has long kept the identities of the execution team private.
The Kansas City Star, the St. Louis-Post-Dispatch and The Associated Press are part of the court case. The media companies argue that Missouri is violating the Sunshine Law by insisting that a 2007 shield law also covers the compounding pharmacies that are believed to be supplying the drugs.
The anonymity provided for members of the execution team should not extend far outside the prison walls to the supplier of lethal injection drugs. At the most basic level, buying the drugs is a business transaction between the state and an outside company. The public should know how, exactly, the state is carrying out executions.
Both opponents and supporters of the death penalty should back more transparency to ensure that errors are not made and corners are not cut. Understanding more about the drugs used for lethal injection could help shape public opinion about this important life-or-death issue.
In Missouri and other states, questions have surfaced about the potency and effectiveness of the drugs being administered. Efforts to identify and address problems will be greatly hindered, if not entirely derailed, under a veil of secrecy.
Missouri, like other death penalty states, started using compounding pharmacies to gain access to the needed drugs when international companies declined to sell their products for use in executions. The state fears, rightfully so, that the pharmacies will face pushback from death-penalty opponents if they’re revealed as suppliers.
But that reasoning shouldn’t supplant the public’s right to know.
Kansas, for its part, has not conducted an execution in decades. And a bill seeking to abolish the state’s death-penalty law received a hearing this month. The measure is not expected to advance.
American attitudes toward the death penalty are shifting. Citizens deserve information as they consider their views.
Despite the ruling by the Missouri appellate court, the state should move to make the execution process more transparent.