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February 14, 2014

Suit over Missouri execution drug draws scrutiny

ST. LOUIS — A ruling temporarily prohibiting a compounding pharmacy from selling execution drugs to Missouri could have implications across the country, a legal expert said Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Terence Kern in Tulsa, Okla., issued a temporary restraining order Wednesday in a suit filed on behalf of condemned Missouri inmate Michael Taylor. The ruling prohibits Tulsa-based Apothecary Shoppe from selling pentobarbital to the Missouri Department of Corrections. A hearing on the case is next week.

Taylor faces execution on Feb. 26, and Gov. Jay Nixon indicated that the state has enough pentobarbital to carry it out. Nixon, speaking at a news conference on Thursday, did not directly answer “yes” or “no” when asked about availability of the execution drug but said, “In order to complete that ultimate responsibility, that’s necessary. The Department of Corrections is prepared to carry out that execution.”

The corrections department and the Apothecary Shoppe did not respond to multiple phone and email messages left by The Associated Press.

Fordham Law School professor Deborah Denno said those on both sides of the death penalty debate are watching developments in the lawsuit.

“I think this is going to spur attorneys in other states to file similar kinds of claims,” Denno said. She also questioned whether legal concerns and bad publicity could compel compounding pharmacies to opt out of making and selling execution drugs.

“You really wonder why a compounding pharmacy would get involved,” Denno said. “It’s not a lucrative market, and it’s a market that can really hurt you in terms of your reputation.”

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, wasn’t as certain about the ruling’s broader impact, noting that a temporary restraining order “is just a preliminary ruling saying that one party has a lot more to lose than the other, so let’s put things on hold until the merits can get resolved.”

Execution drugs have become increasingly hard to obtain as major drug makers stopped selling pharmaceuticals for lethal purposes.

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