In Missouri and across the nation, the process of executing criminals is becoming complicated. It’s one of our society’s most somber, and impactful, tasks. But how much do you know about the process? If you don’t know much about it, there may be a reason for that. Two of our colleagues at in public radio have investigated and found that the process is shrouded in secrecy. Meantime, four people have been executed in Missouri in as many months, after years of less frequent executions.

execution gurney
California Department of Corrections / Wikimedia Commons

Missouri could be on pace to see a record number of executions in 2014, with two more inmates now on the verge of execution dates.

The Missouri Supreme Court on Thursday issued show cause orders in the cases of Leon Taylor and Michael Worthington. The orders give attorneys for the two men until April 14 to show why an execution date should not be set.

Missouri executed two men late last year and has already put to death two other convicted killers in the first two months of 2014 — Herbert Smulls in January and Michael Taylor in February.

Senate floor at the Missouri Capitol
File / KBIA

A Missouri Senate committee is considering legislation on the death penalty.

Still from the film / Jaap Van Hoewijk

This story is part of True/False Conversations, a series of in-depth interviews with the filmmakers of this year’s True/False Festival.  Find the rest of them here or download the podcast on iTunes.

Wednesday's execution of Michael Taylor marked the state's fourth in as many months - a dramatic uptick from recent years.

The state put Taylor to death for abducting, raping and killing a 15-year-old girl in 1989. Gov. Jay Nixon called the crime "wanton" and "heinous" in a statement denying clemency and said the death penalty was the appropriate punishment.

Although the state's previous drug supplier says it will not supply for the next execution, Missouri says it's found another willing pharmacy.

On Monday, the Apothecary Shoppe in Oklahoma reached a settlement with an inmate who had sued the pharmacy. Although the terms were confidential, the pharmacy agreed to not sell to Missouri for its upcoming execution.

In a court filing Wednesday evening, the state said inmate Michael Taylor was trying to cut off the supply of the state's execution drug.

Yanivba via Flickr

A Missouri state senator wants to give the Corrections Department flexibility on how it carries out executions.

Republican Sen. Kurt Schaefer introduced legislation Wednesday that would allow the department to execute inmates by any lawful means. Current law permits executions only by lethal gas or chemicals.

Schaefer, of Columbia, says legal questions over Missouri's current use of pentobarbital shouldn't be used to block capital punishment in the state. He says his bill would give the department the necessary flexibility to carry out death sentences.

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.

Update: Governor says the state is prepared to proceed regardless.

Update: Pharmacy hopes documents will be secret

A federal judge has ordered an Oklahoma-based pharmacy not to sell the Missouri Department of Corrections its execution drug, at least until a hearing scheduled for next week.

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:

Nottingham Vet School / Flikr

An Oklahoma compounding pharmacy linked to Missouri's new lethal injection drug is now seeking a license to do business in the neighboring state.

An Oklahoma compounding pharmacy has supplied Missouri with the drug it's used three times to execute inmates, despite the fact that the pharmacy isn't licensed here.

Now the Apothecary Shoppe is attempting to become licensed in Missouri.

According to records obtained by St. Louis Public Radio, the Oklahoma Board of Pharmacy received a letter from the Apothecary Shoppe on Jan. 13, when the pharmacy said it was planning on registering in both Missouri and Texas.

execution gurney
California Department of Corrections / Wikimedia Commons

A Missouri man has been executed for fatally shooting a jeweler during a 1991 robbery, marking the state's third lethal injection in as many months.

Updated at 1:41 a.m., Thurs., Jan. 30

Missouri inmate Herbert Smulls was put to death late Wednesday night after the U.S. Supreme Court removed two stays. He was pronounced dead at 10:20 p.m.

It was the state's third execution in as many months. The pace of one a month is a sharp uptick from recent years past, when the state has had problems getting a hold of execution drugs.

Flickr / steakpinball

A federal judge in Missouri has denied a motion to grant a 60-day stay of execution for convicted killer Herbert Smulls.

Late Friday night, a group of federal judges found that the compounding pharmacy making Missouri's execution drug can remain secret, but new emails point to one pharmacy as the likely supplier.

missouri capitol
Jacob Fenston / KBIA

Death penalty opponents are using the 25th anniversary of Missouri's resumption of capital punishment to highlight their desire to halt executions.

George Mercer was executed on Jan. 6, 1989, for the 1978 rape and slaying of waitress Karen Keeten in the Kansas City area. Mercer's execution was Missouri's first after a nationwide moratorium on capital punishment was lifted in 1976.

Since then, Missouri has executed 70 inmates.

Death penalty opponents planned a news conference Monday at the Missouri Capitol.

execution gurney
California Department of Corrections / Wikimedia Commons

Missouri has put two people to death since last November, with another execution scheduled for late January. St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon's Chris McDaniel and Véronique LaCapra have been looking into the state's secretive and controversial lethal injection process. They've discovered the state may be ignoring its own laws in carrying out the death penalty.


In an investigation spanning the past few months, St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon has discovered the state of Missouri may be ignoring its own laws in carrying out the death penalty by buying execution drugs from a pharmacy not licensed to do business in Missouri.

Old prison
File Photo / KBIA


Use of the death penalty declined nationally in 2013, but the punishment has seen a resurgence in Missouri.

The Death Penalty Information Center on Thursday released a report showing that 39 people were executed in the U.S. in 2013, just the second time in 19 years that fewer than 40 were put to death.

Missouri has executed two men in the past month — Joseph Paul Franklin on Nov. 29 and Allen Nicklasson on Dec. 11. The executions were the first in Missouri since 2011, and the most in a single year since five in 2005.

A Kansas City man has been executed for killing a good Samaritan who stopped to help him and his friends after their car had broken down in 1994.

Null Value / Flickr

The state of Missouri is still awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on whether it can proceed with the execution of death row inmate Allen Nicklasson.

Nicklasson had been scheduled to die by injection at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday for the 1994 murder of businessman Richard Drummond, who was shot to death after he stopped to help when a car carrying Nicklasson and two others stalled in central Missouri.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay over concerns about Nicklasson's legal representation.

Flickr / steakpinball

The execution of a convicted killer in Missouri is on hold at least for several hours.

Flickr / steakpinball

A panel of federal judges has stayed a Missouri man's execution a little more than a day before he was set to die.

steakpinball_0 / Flickr

A Jefferson City man has been sentenced to die for the 2009 killing of a woman with whom he had a relationship while she was separated from her husband, who was also shot to death.

Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce agreed with a jury's recommendation in imposing the sentence Tuesday on 58-year-old David Hosier. KRCG-TV reports Hosier addressed the court for about 10 minutes, denying he shot Angela Gilpin and claiming the real killer remains at large.

Null Value / Flickr

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has refused to halt the execution of white supremacist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin, calling his crime in Missouri a "cowardly and calculated shooting."

Nottingham Vet School / Flickr

This week on CoMo Explained we explain what all the fuss about Propofol is and how it's got Missouri in the national eye again.

Two weeks ago, Gov. Jay Nixon instructed the Missouri Department of Corrections to come up with a new procedure for carrying out lethal injections.

On Tuesday, the department announced that it had chosen a new execution drug: pentobarbital. But the state also made a change that will end up making it harder, if not impossible, to know where the drugs come from.

On Tuesday, the Missouri Department of Corrections announced that it had selected a new drug for upcoming executions: pentobarbital.

The change comes following criticism of the questionable methods Missouri had obtained the drug it had previously planned to use, as well as concern that its use could harm hospitals throughout the U.S. The state had planned to use a common anesthetic named propofol, which has never been used to carry out an execution.