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   HOUSTON (AP) - A federal appeals court on Wednesday threw out a ruling requiring the Texas prison system to disclose more information about where it gets lethal-injection drugs, reversing a judge who had halted an upcoming execution.
   Only hours before the appellate decision, a lower-court judge issued a temporary injunction halting the execution of Tommy Lynn Sells, a convicted serial killer who was set to die Thursday.
   The case originally included Ramiro Hernandez-Llanas, another inmate scheduled to be put to death next week. But the appellate ruling affected only Sells. The appeals court said it would take up Hernandez-Llanas' case at a later date.
   Texas officials have insisted the identity of the drug supplier must be kept secret to protect the company from threats of violence and that the stock of the sedative pentobarbital falls within the acceptable ranges of potency.
   Defense attorneys say they must have the name of the supplier so they can verify the quality of the drug and spare condemned inmates from unconstitutional pain and suffering.
   In the lower-court ruling, U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore ordered the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to provide defense attorneys with details about the supplier and how the drug was tested.
   Lawyers for the state appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, saying the arguments from the inmates' attorneys "are nothing more than a calculated attempt to postpone their executions."
   Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected similar arguments about execution secrecy in a Missouri case, and the condemned prisoner was put to death.
   Gilmore's ruling "honors the importance of transparency in the execution process," said Maurie Levin, an attorney for the inmates. "And the order makes it clear this last-minute litigation and stays of execution would not be necessary if (the prison agency) had not ignored the rule of law and tried to shield this information from the public and the light of day."
   Texas prisons spokesman Robert Hurst said the agency had no comment because the matter was still in court.
   Since obtaining a new supply of pentobarbital two weeks ago, the Department of Criminal Justice had cited unspecified security concerns in refusing to disclose the source and other details about the drug.
   "As a result, the state's secrecy regarding the product to be used for lethal injection has precluded (the inmates and their attorneys) from evaluating or challenging the constitutionality of the method of execution," Gilmore wrote in a five-page opinion.
   Questions about the source of drugs have arisen in several states in recent months as numerous drugmakers - particularly in Europe, where opposition to capital punishment is strongest - have refused to sell their products if they will be used in executions.
   That has led several state prison systems to compounding pharmacies, which are not as heavily regulated by the Food and Drug Administration as more conventional pharmacies.
   A batch of pentobarbital Texas purchased from a compounding pharmacy in suburban Houston expired at the end of March. The pharmacy refused to sell the state any more drugs, citing threats it received after its name was made public. That led Texas to its new, undisclosed suppler.
   The inmates "are entitled to discover how the state plans to put them to death," said Levin and Jonathan Ross, another attorney in the case.
   Levin filed an open-records request on March 11 seeking the name of the supplier from the Department of Criminal Justice.
   Last week, defense attorneys won an order from a state court that directed prison officials to identify the new provider of pentobarbital, but only to them. The Texas Supreme Court put that order on hold on Friday and set a deadline for briefs to arrive after Sells and Hernandez-Llanas' scheduled execution dates.
   The defense turned next to the federal courts, which resulted in Wednesday's ruling.
   Deborah Denno, a Fordham University law professor, said Gilmore's decision showed courts "are skeptical of explanations" offered by prison agencies.
   "I think Texas always draws attention," Denno said, explaining that the state accounts for a third of all executions and has typically resisted oversight of its execution methods.
   Texas appeared to be attempting to match efforts of other states to keep execution details secret, she said.
   "They don't seem to be operating in a vacuum," she said.
   In three previous opinions, the attorney general's office has directed the Texas prison agency to release records about its lethal injection drugs.
   Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Greg Abbott, said the office had 45 business days to reply.
   Sells, 49, was convicted of killing a 13 year old South Texas girl asleep at her home in 1999. Kaylene Harris was stabbed nearly two dozen times and had her throat slashed. A 10 year old friend also was attacked but survived. Sells confessed to the slaying and has been tied to more than 20 others around the nation. He has claimed responsibility for as many as 70 murders.
   Hernandez-Llanas, 44, a Mexican national, was convicted of killing a Kerrville-area rancher, Glen Lich, 48, who had employed him.
 
Published in National News
   BONNE TERRE, Mo. (AP) - A man convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing a 17 year old St. Charles girl has been executed in Missouri, marking the state's fifth execution in as many months.
   Jeffrey Ferguson was lethally injected just after midnight Wednesday at the state prison in Bonne Terre.
   The 59 year old was accused of kidnapping Kelli Hall as she finished her shift at a Mobil gas station in St. Charles on Feb. 9, 1989.
   Her frozen body was found 13 days later on a St. Louis County farm.
   Ferguson had expressed remorse for the crime. Supporters said he'd found religion, counseled other inmates and helped start a prison hospice program.
   But St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch said Ferguson's good deeds in prison didn't make up for the senseless killing of an innocent teenager.
 
 AP's earlier story is below:
 
   The U.S. Supreme Court refused late Tuesday to stop the impending execution of a Missouri man convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing a 17 year old girl in 1989.
   The high court released its rulings barely an hour before 59 year old Jeffrey Ferguson was scheduled for lethal injection at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday at the state prison in Bonne Terre.
   Ferguson's attorneys were challenging, among other things, the state's refusal to disclose where it gets its execution drugs. Their appeals also were denied by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the governor denied a clemency request.
   The execution will mark the state's fifth execution since November.
   Ferguson was accused of kidnapping Kelli Hall shortly before her shift ended at a Mobil gas station in St. Charles on Feb. 9, 1989. Her frozen body was found 13 days later on a St. Louis County farm.
   "Kelli Hall was only 17 when she was abducted from her workplace, raped and brutally murdered," Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon said in a statement Tuesday evening. "Her life, so full of promise, was brutally taken from her and her family."
   "The jury that convicted Jeffrey Ferguson of Kelli's murder found that the aggravating circumstances for this crime warranted the death penalty," he said in denying the clemency request. "My decision today upholds that appropriate sentence. "
   Missouri switched to a one-drug execution method late last year. The state obtains the drug, pentobarbital, from a compounding pharmacy it refuses to name.
   Ferguson's attorney, Jennifer Herndon, had asked the 8th Circuit to stay the execution, arguing that the state's secretive process prohibited the public from knowing exactly how the drug was made and whether it could cause pain and suffering for the inmate.
   The drug was used in the state's four previous executions, and the inmates showed no outward signs of distress during the execution process.
   A similar request for a stay, arguing that Ferguson wasn't given timely notice of the method being used for his execution, was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.
   Ferguson's supporters argue that he has turned his life around behind bars and has been a model prisoner who works with other inmates, helped start a hospice program and performed other good deeds.
   Herndon said Ferguson was an alcoholic who blacked out on the night of the murder, but that he became devoutly religious once sent to death row.
   Ferguson and a friend, Kenneth Ousley, were at a Shell service station in St. Charles on the night of the murder.
   Hall, who worked at the Mobil station across the street, was nearing the end of her eight-hour work shift when she went outside to check the levels of four fuel tanks.
   A witness said Ferguson's Chevrolet Blazer pulled up. The witness saw a man standing close to Hall with a hand in his pocket. Ferguson was carrying a pistol.
   About a half-hour later, a co-worker went looking for Hall. When they found out she was not home and her purse was still at the station, they contacted police. Later, some of her clothing was found by a city worker in the St. Louis County town of Chesterfield.
   On Feb. 22, Warren Stemme was approaching a machine shed on his farm in Maryland Heights, another St. Louis suburb, when he found Hall's frozen body, naked except for socks. She had been strangled.
   An acquaintance suspicious about Ferguson led police to him, and he was convicted of first-degree murder. Ousley pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 1993; he is serving a life term but is eligible for parole.
 
Published in Local News
Friday, 14 March 2014 14:40

Missouri could set record for executions

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Missouri is on pace for a record number of executions in 2014, with two more inmates on the verge of getting their 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.
Jeffrey Ferguson is scheduled to die March 26 for abducting and killing a teenager in St. Charles County in 1989. In addition to Taylor and Worthington, the Supreme Court has issued show cause orders for five other death row inmates, meaning their execution dates could be set soon.
 
Missouri’s highest number of executions in a year was nine in 1999. The state executed eight men in 1938 and seven in 2001.
Published in Local News
   BONNE TERRE, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri inmate was executed early Wednesday for abducting, raping and killing a Kansas City teenager as she waited for her school bus in 1989, marking the state's fourth lethal injection in as many months.
   Michael Taylor, 47, was pronounced dead shortly after midnight. Federal courts and the governor had refused last-minute appeals from his attorneys, who argued that the execution drug purchased from a compounding pharmacy could have caused Taylor inhuman pain and suffering.
   Taylor offered no final statement. He mouthed silent words to his parents, two clergymen and two other relatives who witnessed his death. As the process began, he took two deep breaths before closing his eyes for the last time. There were no obvious signs of distress.
   His victim, 15-year-old Ann Harrison, was in her driveway — carrying her school books, flute and purse — when she was abducted by Taylor and Roderick Nunley. The men pulled her into their stolen car, took her to a home, then raped and fatally stabbed the girl as she pleaded for her life.
   Nunley also was sentenced to death and is awaiting execution.
   In their appeals, Taylor's attorneys questioned Missouri's use of an unnamed compounding pharmacy to provide the execution drug, pentobarbital. They also cited concerns about the state executing inmates before appeals were complete and argued that Taylor's original trial attorney was so overworked that she encouraged him to plead guilty.
   After using a three-drug execution method for years, Missouri switched late last year to pentobarbital. The same drug was used in three previous Missouri executions, and state officials said none of the inmates showed outward signs of distress.
   Still, attorneys for Taylor said using a drug from a compounding pharmacy, which unlike large pharmaceutical companies are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, runs the risk of causing pain and suffering during the execution process.
   The Oklahoma-based compounding pharmacy Apothecary Shoppe agreed last week that it wouldn't supply the pentobarbital for Taylor's execution, which left Missouri to find a new supplier. But Attorney General Chris Koster's office disclosed that a new provider had been found. Koster refused to name the pharmacy, citing the state's execution protocol that allows for the manufacturer to remain anonymous.
   Taylor's attorneys said use of the drug without naming the compounding pharmacy could cause the inmate pain and suffering because no one could check if the operation was legitimate and had not been accused of any violations.
   Pete Edlund doesn't want to hear it. The retired Kansas City police detective led the investigation into the teenager's death.
   "Cruel and unusual punishment would be if we killed them the same way they killed Annie Harrison," Edlund said. "Get a damn rope, string them up, put them in the gas chamber. Whatever it takes."
   Ann stepped out of her home the morning of March 22, 1989, to wait in her driveway for her school bus.
   Authorities said Nunley and Taylor, then in their early 20s, drove past in a car they had stolen after a night of binging on crack cocaine. One of the men jumped out of the car and grabbed Ann, forcing her into the vehicle. Both claimed the other did it.
   The men drove to the home of Nunley's mother. Ann was forced into the basement and raped — DNA testing linked Taylor to the crime. Afraid she would be able to identify them, the men used kitchen knives to stab the girl 10 times, including in her throat and torso, as she begged for her life.
   She offered money if they would let her live. She died about 30 minutes later, according to the medical examiner.
   The stolen car was then driven to a nearby neighborhood and abandoned, with Ann's body in the trunk. She was found the next day. But the crime went unsolved for about six months until a $10,000 reward led to a tip, and Taylor and Nunley were both arrested, Edlund said. Both pleaded guilty and were sentenced to death.
   The case left even veteran officers traumatized, Edlund said.
   "She just turned 15," the retired detective said. "It was a tragedy all the way around. This was an innocent child."
 
Published in Local News
ST. LOUIS (AP) - Missouri corrections officials say they will use a lethal drug provided by a new supplier in the state's fourth execution in four months.
 
Convicted killer Michael Taylor is scheduled to die at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. Several court appeals have been filed seeking to spare his life, and Gov. Jay Nixon is weighing a clemency request.
 
Taylor's attorneys are questioning Missouri's use of the new, unnamed compounding pharmacy to provide the pentobarbital for his execution. They also allege that the state executes men before appeals are complete, and say Taylor's trial attorney was ineffective.
 
Taylor and Roderick Nunley were convicted of abducting 15-year-old Ann Harrison as she waited for a Kansas City school bus in 1989, then raping and killing her. Nunley is also on death row.
Published in Local News
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Gov. Jay Nixon says Missouri is still prepared to carry out an execution next week - even though an Oklahoma pharmacy won't be supplying the drug for the lethal injection.
 
Nixon declined to say Tuesday whether Missouri would use a different drug than pentobarbital, which was used in the state's past three executions.
 
The Apothecary Shoppe in Tulsa, Okla., filed court documents late Monday saying it had agreed not to provide any drug for Missouri's scheduled Feb. 26 execution of inmate Michael Taylor.
 
In a deposition last month, a Missouri Department of Corrections official said the agency has a backup supply of the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone for executions.
 
Nixon said Missouri could carry out Taylor's execution without having to make any significant changes to its execution protocol.
Published in Local News

   A compounding pharmacy in Oklahoma won't be the one providing Missouri with a made-to-order drug for an upcoming execution.  Court documents filed Monday show that death row inmate Michael Taylor has reached an agreement with The Apothecary Shoppe in Tulsa.  Under the deal, the pharmacy won't prepare or provide pentobarbital or any other drug for use in Taylor's execution.  

   Taylor's attorney, Matt Hellman, says the pharmacy has not already provided any such drug to the Missouri Department of Corrections for Taylor's execution which is scheduled for February 26.

   Missouri Corrections officials have said Taylor's execution will go on as scheduled, but it's not clear where the state will get the necessary drug for lethal injection, or if the state already has enough pentobarbitol on hand for the task. 

   Taylor has pleaded guilty to the 1989 abduction, rape and murder of a 15 year old Kansas City girl.

Published in Local News
ST. LOUIS (AP) - By the time the U.S. Supreme Court refused a last-minute stay of execution for Herbert Smulls, the Missouri inmate was already dead. His attorneys say it was the third straight time a Missouri inmate has been executed with an appeal pending.
 
Late Wednesday, attorneys for Smulls made one last appeal to the Supreme Court. It had already ruled hours earlier that the execution could proceed.
 
Smulls' attorney Joseph Luby says the stay was denied at 10:24 p.m., four minutes after Smulls was pronounced dead.
 
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster says in a statement that the Supreme Court has ruled that pending litigation is not sufficient to stop an execution. He says the state directly asked the high court if the execution should be stayed, and was told no.
Published in Local News
Wednesday, 29 January 2014 17:08

UPDATE: Missouri executes Smulls

   Convicted killer Herbert Smulls is dead.  The Missouri man was executed Wednesday night at the state prison in Bonne Terre.  He was pronounced dead at 10:20 p.m.  
   The U.S. Supreme Court had granted a temporary stay late Tuesday, which had halted Smull's scheduled midnight execution.  Smulls' attorneys had filed several appeals, mostly challenging the state's refusal to disclose the name of the compounding pharmacy that supplies its execution drug.  The high court reviewed his case and eventually revoked the last remaining stay late Wednesday evening.  
   Smulls made no final statement, verbally or in writing.
   The 56 year old had been sentenced to death for killing Stephen Honickman and badly injuring his wife during a 1991 robbery at the couple's St. Louis County jewelry store.
    He was the third person in as many months Missouri has executed by lethal injection.
 
   
 
Published in Local News
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - As Missouri prepares to execute its third inmate in three months, a state senator wants to change the state's execution process.
 
Senate Democratic Leader Jolie Justus introduced legislation Tuesday that would create an 11-member commission responsible for setting the state's execution procedure. She says ongoing lawsuits and secrecy about the state's current lethal injection method should drive a change in protocol.
 
Missouri had used a three-drug cocktail for executions, but it threw out the process after it could no longer obtain the drugs. The state ultimately switched to a form of pentobarbital made by a compounding pharmacy, though it refuses to reveal its origins.
 
Missouri is scheduled to execute Herbert Smullsat 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. Smulls was convicted of killing a St. Louis County jeweler in 1991.
 
Published in Local News
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