United Kingdom Acts to Ban Export of Lethal Injection Drug

The United Kingdom has introduced restictions on the exportation of propofol after officials in Missouri announced they would begin using the anesthetic in executions. Exports of sodium thiopental, another anesthetic previously used in executions, were restricted after several states obtained that drug from DreamPharma, a drug company run out of the back of a driving school in London. Vince Cable, the U.K. Business Secretary, said, "This country opposes the death penalty. We are clear that the state should never be complicit in judiciary executions through the use of British drugs in lethal injections." The ban will not prevent export of the drug for medical purposes.

Missouri is the first state to announce its intention to use propofol in executions. All executions in 2012 have used the anesthetic pentobarbital. Lundbeck, Inc., the Danish producer of pentobarbital, announced restrictions on its distribution to avoid its use in lethal injections. Recently, manufacturing rights were transferred to a U.S. company, Akorn, Inc., but restrictions on pentobarbital's use were to stay in place.  This week, Texas announced that it will begin using pentobarbital in a new one-drug protocol for executions.  Four other states have already used a one-drug procedure.  Oklahoma, which had previously stated that it had only enough pentobarbital for one more execution, announced on July 11 that it had acquired 20 additional doses from an unnamed source.

LETHAL INJECTION: Missouri Intends to Use Propofol in One-Drug Lethal Injection

The Missouri Department of Corrections has announced that it is switching from a three-drug lethal injection protocol to a single-drug method, using Propofol. Missouri would be the first state to use Propofol (Diprivan) as an execution drug.The drug is manufactured by AstraZeneca. At least one medical expert has questioned whether the new execution drug is appropriate. Missouri’s written protocol does not require a physician to be a part of the execution team. Dr. Jonathan Groner, an Ohio State University surgeon who has studied lethal injection extensively, said that improper administration of the drug could cause pain at the injection site. Dr. Groner said high doses of Propofol will cause respiratory arrest, but the dosage must be accurate and the process must move swiftly because the drug wears off in just a few minutes. According to Dr. Groner, "If they start breathing before the heart stops, they might not die.” It is not clear when Propofol would first be used in an execution.  Missouri has scheduled an execution for August 3, but some appeals remain.  The state has carried out only two executions in the last seven years.

EDITORIALS: "Shortage of Key Drugs May Suspend Death Penalty in Missouri"

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch urged Missouri to end its death penalty as the system has ground to a halt because of controversies involving its method of execution. On May 8, a federal appeals court declined to rule on a challenge to the state’s lethal injection protocol because the Department of Corrections could no longer obtain one of the three drugs specified in the protocol. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit said, “The DOC is unable to carry out the challenged protocol as written, and it appears unlikely it ever will.” A new protocol will be needed.  The drug shortage will almost surely halt executions in the state. The editorial called this recent turn of events “an ideal time for Missouri to follow the lead of 17 other states and forego capital punishment. It's expensive and serves no deterrent effect. Its administration is always arbitrary and capricious. Missouri so botched its procedures in the mid-2000s that a federal judge suspended executions until the state fixed the problems. Only two men have been executed since 2005.” Read full editorial below.

EDITORIALS: ABA Report Finds Serious Problems with Missouri's Death Penalty

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called upon leaders in Missouri to make numerous changes to the state's death penalty in light of a recent American Bar Association report produced by a bipartisan panel of lawyers, judges, prosecutors and law professors.  The editorial highlighted many of the ABA’s recommendations, including “improving evidence standards, increasing public defender funding and creating more accountability for prosecutors.” It also noted that the ABA found that Missouri's statute contains "[t]oo many aggravating circumstances — 17 of them, many vague — that make the application of the death penalty by prosecutors arbitrary. In Missouri, virtually any murder case could qualify for the death penalty."  The editors called on Governor Jay Nixon to address the lack of transparency in the clemency process: “Mr. Nixon alone could make one move that would bring honor and justice to the legal profession he loves without jeopardizing his standing as a fierce death penalty proponent. He can commit to a transparent clemency process for as long as he is governor. It's not good enough to spare one life while condemning another if the public doesn't know the reasoning behind either decision.” Read full editorial below.

STUDIES: American Bar Association Recommends Reforms to Missouri's Death Penalty

ABA report coverThe American Bar Association has released a report on Missouri's capital punishment system after a two-year study of the state's death penalty. The study was conducted by legal experts, including former and current judges, lawyers, and law professors. Douglas Copeland, a member of the assessment team and former president of the Missouri Bar, said "We identified substantial problems with the death penalty in Missouri. Our group unanimously agreed there are key reforms needed to ensure fairness in the system and prevent conviction of the innocent.” The recommended reforms include:

- Narrowing the classes of cases that are eligible for the death penalty, to include only the most serious murders
- Improving standards for defense counsel in capital cases
- Improving law enforcement and prosecutor practices to prevent wrongful convictions and promote apprehension of the guilty
- Prohibiting the execution of the severely mentally ill

The study also noted progress already made in Missouri to ensure fairness in capital punishment, including creation of the Missouri State Public Defender and new accreditation requirements for crime labs.

DPIC RESOURCES: New State Pages Now Available

DPIC is pleased to announce the completion of our State Information Pages for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  These state profiles provide historical and current information on the death penalty for each state, including famous cases, past legislative actions, and links to key organizations and state officials.  For frequently updated information, such as execution totals, the size of death row, or the number of exonerations, see our State-by-State Database.  Readers are encouraged to send additional information, pictures, and links to organizations in their state.  You can reach the State Information Pages through the "State by State" button at the top of every page on our website or under the "Resources" tab in our main menu.

NEW RESOURCES: States Ranked by Executions Per Death Sentence

DPIC has updated its Executions Per Death Death Sentence page to reflect data through 2010.  This page lists states in order of the percentage of death sentences resulting in an execution since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.  If every death sentence resulted in an execution, the state would be at 100%, or a rate of 1.00.  Using this ratio of executions per death sentence, the first five states are Virginia (.725), Texas (.498), Utah (.368), Missouri (.347), and Delaware (.311).  Of those states that have carried out at least one execution, the five states with the lowest rate of execution are Pennsylvania (.008), California (.015), Idaho (.025), Oregon (.028), and Tennessee (.035).  Four states with the death penalty during this time period had no executions: Kansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and New York.  The latter two have abandoned the death penalty.  Nationally, about 15% of death sentences have resulted in an execution (a rate of .150).  Another measure of state execution rates is executions per capita (population).  Under this standard, Oklahoma and Texas are the leading states.

Missouri Judge Orders State to Reveal Source of Lethal Injection Drugs

Cole County, Missouri Circuit Judge Jon Beetem ruled on March 21 that Missouri must release the names of pharmacies that have provided lethal injection drugs for executions. Judge Beetem ruled in favor of the ACLU of Missouri and several media organizations that had filed three separate suits against the state. The media plaintiffs included the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Kansas City Star, the Springfield News-Leader, Associated Press, The Guardian, and BuzzFeed reporter Chris McDaniel. Judge Beetem found that Missouri had "knowingly violated the sunshine law by refusing to disclose records that would reveal the suppliers of lethal injection drugs, because its refusal was based on an interpretation of Missouri statutes that was clearly contrary to law." Bernard Rhodes, an attorney for The Guardian, said the information was critical to public oversight: "Without this information, the public is unable to exercise meaningful oversight of the executions carried out in its name. One of the primary purposes of a free and independent press is to perform a watchdog function over government activities, and this lawsuit is a perfect example of that." Because it determined that Missouri had knowingly violated the law, the court also awarded the plaintiffs more than $100,000 in attorneys fees. In a column for the Los Angeles Times, Scott Martelle called the decision, "a win for transparency," and said that companies' reluctance to participate publicly in executions was evidence of society's changing views. "[C]apital punishment has become so contrary to American societal norms that here in the land of the quick buck, even the business world has turned its back on the practice," he wrote. The state of Missouri has indicated that it intends to appeal the decision.