by Sam Levin
Is Missouri going to bring back the gas chamber?
The outdated execution method may be the only available option, says Attorney General Chris Koster, citing an ongoing court battle that has prompted the Missouri Supreme Court to delay setting execution dates. As we reported on Monday, Koster is calling on the court to set dates for two men on death row, arguing that the state's supply of propofol, the execution drug, will soon expire.
And if the drugs do expire before the men are executed, the next and only option may be the gas chamber, which hasn't been used since the 1960s in Missouri.
See also: - Missouri Attorney General Calls for Execution of Man Linked to Larry Flynt Shooting - Chris Koster Wants Execution Dates For Two Men On Death Row - Death Penalty Repeal in Missouri: Gina Walsh Says Capital Punishment is Not Pro-Life
In an interview published today in the Kansas City Star, Koster says, "It may be the last option we have to enforce Missouri law."
A spokeswoman for the attorney general's office today points Daily RFT to this quote from the Monday press release: "Unless the Court changes its current course, the legislature will soon be compelled to fund statutorily authorized alternative methods of execution to carry out lawful judgments."
The only other method that is currently allowed in statute is the gas chamber, she tells us.
The relevant part of the statute says:
Death penalty--manner of execution--execution team to be selected, members, confidentiality.
546.720. 1. The manner of inflicting the punishment of death shall be by the administration of lethal gas or by means of the administration of lethal injection. And for such purpose the director of the department of corrections is hereby authorized and directed to provide a suitable and efficient room or place, enclosed from public view, within the walls of a correctional facility of the department of corrections, and the necessary appliances for carrying into execution the death penalty by means of the administration of lethal gas or by means of the administration of lethal injection.
The men who could in theory face the death penalty with this method are Joseph Franklin, who was convicted in 1997 of killing Gerald Gordon in St. Louis, and Allen Nicklasson, who was found guilty in 1996 for killing Richard Drummond, a Good Samaritan who helped him out on the highway.
The Star notes that the last gas-chamber execution in the state happened in 1965, and that after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1972 halted executions across the country, Missouri rewrote the law, turning to lethal injection as the primary method.
The lethal-gas option, however, is still on the books.
A lawsuit relating to the use of lethal drugs, filed on behalf of 21 Missouri death-row inmates, is pending in federal court, the paper notes.
Koster also told the paper that litigation like this will likely always be ongoing.
"We are simply left with an open-ended future of a law not being enforced," he said.
Here's the attorney general's full news release from Monday.
Attorney General Koster renews request for Missouri Supreme Court to set execution dates for two men on death row
--Koster says delay in setting dates threatens state's ability to administer capital punishment--
Jefferson City, Mo. - Attorney General Chris Koster again today called on the Missouri Supreme Court to set execution dates for Joseph Franklin and Allen Nicklasson, saying further delays threaten the state's ability to carry out capital punishment.
Last August, the Supreme Court issued an order saying that Koster's May 2012 request to set execution dates was premature until questions on the use of propofol in executions are settled. Koster said, however, that waiting until federal litigation is complete may prevent the State from administering capital punishment at all, noting that the Missouri Department of Corrections' supply of propofol is limited, and much of its remaining supply will expire by next spring.
"For nearly a decade, the mere pendency of federal litigation has been used as an artificial hurdle, unauthorized by law or federal court order, to prevent the State from carrying out the death penalty," Koster said. "The Court's current position has allowed successive, limited supplies of propofol to reach their expiration dates. Unless the Court changes its current course, the legislature will soon be compelled to fund statutorily-authorized alternative methods of execution to carry out lawful judgments."
The State first asked the Court to set an execution date for Joseph Franklin in June 2009, and for Allen Nicklasson in January 2010.
Franklin was convicted in 1997 for shooting and killing Gerald Gordon, who was standing in the parking lot of a St. Louis area synagogue after a bar mitzvah. Franklin also was convicted of shooting two other men who were in the synagogue parking lot. While Franklin will be executed for his crimes in Missouri, he also was convicted for the murder of two African-Americans in Utah, the murder of an interracial couple in Wisconsin, and the bombing of a synagogue in Tennessee. Franklin also has claimed responsibility for the shooting of Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler magazine.
Nicklasson was found guilty in 1996 of first degree murder for the death of "Good Samaritan" Richard Drummond. Nicklasson was the trigger-man in the 1994 killing of Mr. Drummond, who had offered a ride to Nicklasson, Dennis Skillicorn and Tim DeGraffenreid after their car broke down on Interstate 70. The State executed Dennis Skillicorn in May 2009 for his role in the crime.