Missouri's recent executions have sparked controversy lately -- not just for the secrecy and the source of the execution drug but also for the state's speed in carrying them out.
The Department of Corrections has carried out three executions in as many months. In all those cases, the inmate still had appeals pending at the time the state executed him.
It's something legal experts have expressed concern and alarm over. Last week, 8th Circuit Chief Judge William Riley admonished the state for its actions.
"The state of Missouri executed somebody -- which they probably had the right to do -- right in the middle of the petition for rehearing voting," Riley said to Missouri Assistant Attorney General Stephen Hawke. "And I wanted you take back the word [to the attorney general's office] that some of the members did not appreciate that. We were right in the middle of voting on that."
Hawke was appearing before the court in an unrelated case.
"We were moving as fast as we can, and as chief judge, I was pushing to make sure we got everything done on time," Riley said, referring specifically to the execution of Allen Nicklasson.
"I think you need to be a little more patient," Riley told the state lawyer. Hawke told the judge that he understood.
In Dec., another 8th Circuit judge expressed alarm over the state's actions.
"Missouri put Nicklasson to death before the federal courts had a final say on whether doing so violated the federal constitution," Judge Kermit Bye wrote. "In my near 14 years on the bench, this is the first time I can recall this happening.”
The state has previously stood by its actions in carrying out the death penalty while appeals are pending and in fact has defended the practice before a Missouri House Committee last week.
“The law is clear that the pendency of an execution is insufficient to stop an execution," David Hansen, representing the attorney general’s office said.
After the hearing, the chair of the committee said he didn't believe there was anything unconstitutional about the state's actions.
Andrew Cohen, a legal analyst, wrote about the issue in an article for Politico Magazine. He argued that "Missouri may or may not have had a legal right to proceed with [the] execution. But it showed a level of disrespect for the judiciary, and a level of disregard for process and tradition."
The state's next scheduled execution is Feb. 26.
Follow Chris McDaniel on Twitter: @csmcdaniel