Missouri Department of Corrections caught misleading about its executions, wants to kill Earl Ringo tonight anyway

Missouri Department of Corrections director George Lombardi earlier this year testified in front of a legislative committee and lamented that the media was beating up on his office for the way it carried out its executions.

Prior to 2013, Missouri had taken a breather from killing inmates, in part because corrections officials couldn’t track down a willing supplier of lethal-injection drugs. But when the state resumed executing prisoners last November, it did so at a roughly once-a-month pace —unseen elsewhere in the country. Not only did the state execute prisoners quickly, but it also did so while obscuring its methods for obtaining the drugs and how it administered them to its human subjects.

Government secrecy is a reliable method to attract media attention, particularly when that secrecy involves grave actions taken by the government on behalf of its people, like executing prisoners.

The essence of Lombardi’s testimony was that secrecy was the only way to carry out the state-sanctioned killings and that everyone else should just trust that his staff will get it right. But subsequent, hard-fought disclosures by this publication about how Missouri executes prisoners and others revealed dubious means by which the state handled its capital punishment. Those included no-bid contracts to drug suppliers paid out in cash, using drug-testing agencies that whiffed on their analyses of other drugs, and the use of an Oklahoma pharmacy unlicensed to do business in Missouri.

Another reason for skepticism of the Missouri Department of Corrections: the recent revelation that corrections officials were using a sedative as part of its execution protocol, despite denials by the department of its use.

Chris McDaniel, a St. Louis Public Radio reporter who has closely followed the Missouri execution story since late last year, aired an investigation a week ago showing that corrections officials administered the sedative Midazolam to prisoners, even though Lombardi testified in a deposition that the state wouldn’t use the drug as part of its execution. (Another official testified at one point that the state didn’t have the drug.)

Corrections officials took to hair-splitting in response to McDaniel’s story, saying that Midazolam was given to prisoners before the execution started in order to take the edge off someone who was about to die. Still, the SLPR story found that the department was giving higher-than-normal doses, unseen by witnesses, unbeknownst to their lawyers and without oversight.

The revelation is important because Midazolam was the culprit in botched executions that took place in three other states this year.

Missouri is poised to press on, undaunted. The state plans to execute Earl Ringo shortly after midnight on Wednesday. Ringo was convicted in 1998 of a double homicide in Boone County. His attorneys are appealing to higher courts on several fronts, including the possibility that corrections officials have misled about how the state executes prisoners. So far, those appeals haven’t found their mark.

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