Report: Condemned US inmates got midazolam
ST. LOUIS (AP) — As Missouri prepares for another execution next week, a new report suggests that the Department of Corrections quietly and repeatedly used a drug that has raised concerns in botched executions in other U.S. states.
Missouri’s written one-drug execution protocol allows only for use of pentobarbital. The state said pentobarbital was the sole drug used in the deaths of nine condemned men since November.
St. Louis Public Radio reported Wednesday that the sedative midazolam also was part of the process in all nine executions, despite Department of Corrections director George Lombardi’s comments under oath in January that the state “will not use” midazolam.
The report cites chemical log forms obtained through a Sunshine Law request showing that “Versed” was administered to each inmate. Versed is another name for midazolam.
Corrections department spokesman David Owen said Missouri’s protocol allows for use of sedatives in advance of the execution, and they are not part of the actual execution. He declined to name the sedative used but confirmed that only pentobarbital is used for lethal injection.
Gov. Jay Nixon, during a news conference in Columbia, said courts have repeatedly allowed Missouri’s protocol.
“This is the way the protocol has been and, quite frankly, there’s been a significant amount of litigation about it and the courts have continued to say that it’s a proper and just way to complete the ultimate punishment,” Nixon said.
Still, an attorney for condemned inmate Earl Ringo Jr. called the report alarming. Ringo is scheduled to die Sept. 10 for killing two people during a robbery at a Ruby Tuesday restaurant in Columbia in 1998.
Attorney Kay Parish said she will ask the courts to halt the execution based on concerns raised by the St. Louis Public Radio report. She said corrections officials “have insisted time and time again that the botched executions in Oklahoma, Arizona and Ohio have no relevance to what’s going on in Missouri because they’re not using the same drugs. That is an outright lie in light of the report that came out today.”
Midazolam was used in the execution of Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire in January. He snorted and gasped for 26 minutes before dying. Clayton Lockett died of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after his execution with midazolam began in April. Arizona inmate Joseph Rudolph Wood gasped more than 600 times and took nearly two hours to die in July.
At a deposition in January, soon after McGuire’s death, Missouri Department of Corrections director George Lombardi was asked if backup execution drugs hydromorphone and midazolam would be used if Missouri ever ran short of pentobarbital.
“And I’m testifying right now to tell you that will not be the case. We will not use those drugs,” Lombardi said, according to documents from the deposition.
Death penalty opponents have criticized Missouri’s procedure. The state refuses to name the compounding pharmacy where it obtains execution drugs or say if or how those drugs are tested.
Lombardi said in the deposition that Versed can be given as a sedative at the request of the inmate, the state or the execution team, often hours before the actual execution — long before media and other witnesses observe the execution process. Spokesman Mike O’Connell has said after several executions that inmates were given a sedative prior to the actual executions, without naming the sedative.
Jonathan Groner, a professor of surgery at the Ohio State University College of Medicine who has written extensively on the death penalty, said midazolam given prior to an execution could relax an inmate so much that he couldn’t articulate if he is in pain during the process.
“If you have midazolam he may not respond if he’s uncomfortable,” Groner said.
Ringo was sentenced to death for a July 4, 1998, double slaying at a Ruby Tuesday restaurant in Columbia, where he was a former employee. Truck driver Dennis Poyser was fatally shot while making a morning delivery to the restaurant. Ringo said during his 1999 sentencing hearing that he shot Poyser after being surprised by him during a robbery.
AP reporter David A. Lieb in Columbia, Missouri, contributed to this report.