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Court: Missouri not required to name execution drug's source

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Missouri appellate court has ruled that the state's prison officials aren't obligated to publicly reveal the source of the drug used to execute prisoners.

The appellate court's Western District decided Tuesday to overturn a 2016 trial court ruling that found the state wrongly withheld documents that would identify pharmaceutical suppliers, The Kansas City Star (http://bit.ly/2l6Ztwl ) reported.

The appeals court agreed with the state that a law that protects the identity of the state's execution team applies to those who supply the execution drug pentobarbital.

Major drug companies for the past several years have refused to allow their drugs to be used in executions. Missouri and many other active death penalty states refuse to disclose the source of their drugs, though the sources are widely believed to be compounding pharmacies — organizations that make drugs tailored to the needs of a specific client. Those pharmacies do not face the same approval process or testing standards of larger pharmaceutical companies.

The appeals court ruling said that disclosing the identities of "individuals essential to the execution process" could hinder Missouri's ability to execute the condemned.

Several states also are facing legal challenges to lethal injection practices. Just last month, a federal judge found Ohio's latest lethal injection procedure unconstitutional while Texas sued the Food and Drug Administration over execution drugs that were confiscated in 2015. In Oklahoma last year, a grand jury criticized state officials charged with carrying out executions, describing a litany of failures and avoidable errors.

Missouri prison officials said they would not comment on the decision Tuesday because it remains under litigation.

The lawsuit was filed in 2014 by media organizations that included The Associated Press, Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It argued that public disclosure reduces any risk that "improper, ineffective or defectively prepared drugs are used."

Bernie Rhodes, a Kansas City lawyer for the media organizations, said the appeals court was wrong to conclude that the pharmacists are covered by the state's "black hood law."

The pharmacists supplying the drugs are not present at the prison during the execution and may never have been at the prison, Rhodes said.

"We believe to directly assist, you have to be there," Rhodes said. "Selling the drugs is no different . from selling the syringes or the gurney or the light bulbs in the execution chamber." But no one has asserted that the suppliers of those other items are provided anonymity by the law.

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