Gears get moving again on Missouri’s death penalty machine with John Winfield’s execution

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Missouri became the second state in the United States to execute a prisoner since Clayton Lockett’s grisly punishment in Oklahoma on April 29.

John Winfield died 10 minutes after midnight on Wednesday, strapped down to a gurney in Missouri’s death chamber in Bonne Terre to receive a lethal dose of pentobarbital. It was Winfield’s punishment for a 1996 shooting that left two dead and another permanently blind.

Witnesses didn’t report anything amiss with Winfield’s execution. He was pronounced dead at 12:10 a.m., shortly after the procedure began. Georgia executed an inmate an hour before Winfield’s death. Florida has planned an execution for Wednesday evening.

A federal judge in St. Louis last week ordered a halt to Winfield’s execution, finding evidence that prison officials in Potosi, where Winfield awaited execution, had interfered with the inmate’s clemency process. Winfield’s attorneys said corrections officials launched an investigation into a prison employee who had expressed willingness to support Winfield’s clemency on the account that he was a model inmate who didn’t cause trouble and mentored other prisoners.

But a full panel of 8th Circuit Court of Appeals judges lifted the stay on Tuesday by a narrow 6-4 vote, with one judge not participating. A majority of judges said Gov. Jay Nixon could still consider clemency, despite the obstruction by state employees into that process. A minority of judges admonished the Missouri Department of Corrections for its conduct.

An emergency appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court failed to delay Winfield’s execution. Winfield’s attorney lobbied the highest court to consider the clemency obstruction claim, as well as ongoing protestations about the secrecy in which Missouri executes prisoners. Missouri steadfastly refuses to say where it gets its execution drug, or even to what degree, if any, the drugs have been tested for purity and potency. Several botched executions just in 2014 alone have given credence to arguments that lethal injection is not a proper method of execution.

The drug argument was convincing enough to stall the execution of Russell Bucklew in May. Bucklew was within hours of execution on May 21 when the U.S. Supreme Court halted the process after receiving an appeal that said his rare medical condition raised a strong possibility of a gruesome death by lethal injection.

Attorneys for Bucklew and Missouri are scheduled for a hearing before the 8th Circuit in St. Louis in September.

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