As national execution numbers drop to historic lows and a growing number of states halt executions or repeal the death penalty altogether, Missouri has recently increased the number of executions it is carrying out and overtaken Texas for the highest per-capita execution rate.
Missouri and Texas have carried out all of the last 15 executions in the U.S. and 80% of executions through September 1 of this year.
A report by The Marshall Project explores why Missouri is bucking national trends, highlighting the availability of execution drugs, Missouri's political climate, and the lack of adequate defense resources.
While shortages of lethal injection drugs have slowed executions in many states, Missouri has managed to stockpile pentobarbitral for use in executions.
Because of state secrecy laws, the source of the drug is unknown, and state officials will not confirm whether the drug is produced by a compounding pharmacy or obtained from another source, such as a veterinary supplier or overseas manufacturer.
The governor and attorney general of Missouri have pushed to move executions forward, using the death penalty to establish "tough-on-crime" credentials as Democrats in a politically conservative state.
Courts have also contributed to the unusual situation in Missouri. The state Supreme Court, which sets execution dates, scheduled one execution per month to make up for holds due to drug shortages.
Finally, underfunding and heavy caseloads have created what defense attorneys are calling a "crisis" in capital representation.
Missouri was ranked 49th of the 50 states in per-capita spending on indigent defense in 2009. In March, the American Bar Association Death Penalty Assessment Team told the Missouri Supreme Court, "The current pace of executions is preventing counsel for the condemned from performing competently."
Missouri has been the subject of charges of improprieties in obtaining execution drugs, including making secret cash payments for execution drugs and violating federal law by allegedly obtaining pentobarbital from a compounding pharmacy without a valid prescription.
The American Bar Association assessment completed in 2012 reported numerous failings in the state's administration of the death penalty.
Source: Death Penalty Information Center, Sept. 9, 2015
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