Missouri Gas Chamber to Return? State Running Out of Propofol for Lethal Injections

Missouri's gas chamber could return as the main way to execute prisoners if the state is not allowed to speed up their executions via lethal injection, state attorney general Chris Koster argued. The state has been running out of propofol for their injections, and now Koster is putting pressure on the Missouri Supreme Court to act.

The Missouri gas chamber hasn't been used since 1965, and in 1995 it was ruled unconstitutional by the ninth circuit U.S. court of appeals in California. Now, Koster claims that unless the Missouri supreme court speeds up the process of lethal injections, the only way to execute prisoners will be with the gas chamber.

"Unless the [supreme] court changes its current course, the legislature will soon be compelled to fund statutorily-authorised alternative methods of execution to carry out lawful judgments," Koster said. The state currently only allows two methods of execution: "the administration of lethal gas or by means of the administration of lethal injection."

The difficulty Missouri is having executing their prisoners stems from new restrictions the European Commission has imposed on selling anesthetics to the U.S., particularly to prison facilities. In response, the state decided to abandon the traditional method of lethal injection- sodium thiopental knocks the inmate unconscious, pancuronium bromide paralyzes their muscle system and breathing, and potassium chloride stops the heart- in favor of one large dose of propofol.

The constitutionality of using a dose of propofol 15 times larger than in surgery was challenged by 21 death row inmates, whose attorneys said it promoted "an unprecedented, substantial likelihood of foreseeable infliction of excruciating pain in the course of executing the plaintiffs."

The Missouri state supreme court then halted all executions until the constitutionality of propofol is resolved. However, Koster filed new motions last week pushing the court to order the executions of two convicted murderers, Joseph Paul Franklin and Allen Nicklasson, before the supply of propofol run out.

"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," he said.

Despite the horrifying history of the gas chamber, attorney Joseph Luby of the Death Penalty Litigation Center in Kansas City said there is little chance it will return to being used for executions in Missouri.

"Its use has fallen into disrepute not least in the Western mind post World War Two. We see gas chambers as problematic for reasons that don't need spelling out," Luby told The Guardian. One of Luby's colleagues Richard Dieter agreed.

"He's trying to prod the court into dropping its objections and setting execution dates by threatening that Missouri might have to go back to the dark ages if they don't act soon," Dieter explained.