After Controversy Surrounding Executions, State Officials Testify Before House Committee
Despite the controversy over how Missouri has carried out its past three executions, a state House hearing on Monday revealed little that hasn't already been reported:
- The Department of Corrections has been obtaining its execution drug from an Oklahoma compounding pharmacy that the state tried unsuccessfully to keep secret.
- A high-ranking Corrections official has been transporting thousands of dollars in cash to this Oklahoma pharmacy.
“Yes, it is cash money,” said George Lombardi, Corrections director, at the hearing. “That has been happening, I want to add, since the Ashcroft administration (and) through every governor.”
While Lombardi is correct that members of the "execution team" have previously been paid in cash, this situation is different. For the first time, the "execution team" has members who do not participate in carrying out the execution -- members who aren't even present for the execution.
David Dormire, the director of adult institutions, has been transporting a little more than $11,000 to the Apothecary Shoppe in Oklahoma. The pharmacy just recently became licensed to sell in Missouri.
“They’ve made it clear that we wouldn’t have the people required to carry out the death penalty” if it weren't cash, Lombardi said.
"The most charitable way I can characterize [the state's] actions are to call them sleazy," attorney Joseph Luby said at the hearing. He's representing numerous inmates still on death row, alleging that the state's execution method amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the 8th Amendment.
Lombardi defended his department's actions and said the statute mandates that it carry out the death penalty.
“The way the department has been besmirched and vilified in the press is disturbing to me. This is not what this department is about,” Lombardi said, pointing to positive things his department has done.
But at no point through the hearing did he dispute the facts presented by the press on the source of the execution drug.
The hearing also delved into another issue: That the state has carried out executions before the courts have ruled on pending stays of execution.
It's a practice that's been criticized by national outlets and a federal judge.
"Missouri put [an inmate] to death before the federal courts had a final say on whether doing so violated the federal constitution…I am alarmed that Missouri proceeded with its execution before this court had even finished voting on [the] request for a stay. In my near 14 years on the bench, this is the first time I can recall this happening.”
-Judge Kermit Bye
“The law is clear that the pendency of an execution is insufficient to stop an execution," David Hansen with the state attorney general’s office said. "The state of Missouri went to the United States Supreme Court and asked if the execution should happen. The court answered that question and said, 'No, the execution should not be stopped.'”
Missouri has executed three inmates in as many months while motions for stays were still pending.
At the hearing, the attorney general’s office did not speak to the quality and source of the drug.
State Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, chaired the hearing.
"After hearing the testimony, I don't think there was anything untoward or unconstitutional about proceeding with the executions at the time that they did," Barnes said in an interview after the hearing. "I think that today was a good opportunity for the facts to be discussed."
Barnes declined to speak about the issues surrounding the source of the execution drug. He said currently no further hearings on the matter are scheduled.
However, this does not mean that the legislature is done with the issue. Currently, at least three bills in the legislature would change how the state carries out executions. And the constitutionality of Missouri's methods remains before the federal courts.
Follow Chris McDaniel on Twitter: @csmcdaniel