Earlier this year, Texas banned gas chamber euthanasia for homeless pets.
In the state of Missouri, officials are threatening to revive the use of the gas chamber for inmates on death row.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster says that the state must revert to such a barbaric practice because its supply of lethal injection drugs is dwindling. European and Asian drug companies have been refusing to sell the drugs used in executions and the European Commission has set strict rules governing the export of anesthetics to the U.S. on the basis that they may be used for “capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Alone of the 33 states in which the death penalty is still legal, Missouri has been seeking to execute prisoners with one injection of the drug propofol in a dose 15 times stronger than that used in surgical procedures. 21 prisoners on death row have mounted a legal challenge to Missouri’s protocol on the grounds that it creates “an unprecedented, substantial likelihood of foreseeable infliction of excruciating pain in the course of executing the plaintiffs.” The constitutionality of Missouri’s proposal is currently under review.
Missouri has, as a result, refused to schedule any more execution dates. But it is also seeking to press ahead with the execution of two men, Joseph Paul Franklin and Allen Nicklasson, on death row, for no other reason than that its limited supply of execution drugs will soon expire. Says Koster,
“The department has only three quantities of propofol remaining. The oldest quantity expires this October, the next batch expires in May 2014, and the newest supply expires in 2015. As each supply expires, the department’s ability to carry out lawfully imposed capital sentences diminishes.”
Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center sees Koster’s threatening to use the gas chamber as nothing less than a “political ploy” to speed up the executions of Franklin and Nicklasson.
Hanging was the “preferred method of judicial killing” in Missouri until 1937 when it was banned. From then until 1965, Missouri used the gas chamber. Since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, eleven inmates have been killed by this method amid growing controversy and reports of gruesome suffering. Indeed, the U.S. court of appeals for the ninth circuit in California ruled the gas chamber unconstitutional in 1995, on the grounds that it was “cruel and unusual punishment.”
At this point in history and certainly after the horrors of the Holocaust, it is simply unthinkable to even propose the use of the gas chamber. Missouri needs to acknowledge that it is time to rescind the death penalty now. As a May editorial in the Kansas City Star points out,
The Innocence Project reports that, through the use of DNA evidence, 18 death row prisoners so far have been exonerated. They already had served a total of 229 years behind bars in 11 different states. That should never happen. Nor should execution of the innocent, but the only way to be positive it doesn’t is to ban capital punishment.
Anti-death penalty advocates have pointed out the huge costs to Missouri from capital punishment at the expense of funding education and transportation. State Sen. Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis, has proposed a bill to study the costs of prosecution and defense in death penalty murder cases.
Sen. Keaveny’s bill is certainly a welcome, albeit a preliminary, step in the direction that Missouri needs to move regarding capital punishment. It is more than high time for the “Show Me” state to show us that, like Maryland, it “sees the light” and joins the 18 other states who have banned the death penalty.
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