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Springfield Vigil Planned Amidst Fear of Botched Executions, Lawsuits over Government Secrecy

(Photo credit: steakpinball, via Flickr)

Organizers throughout Missouri have planned vigils around the state to bring attention to the seventh state execution in seven months, this in the wake of lawsuits over the secrecy surrounding Missouri’s execution drug. KSMU’s Shane Franklin has the story.

Rita Linhardt is senior associate with the Missouri Catholic Conference and a founding member of Missourians for an Alternative to the Death Penalty, or MADP.

Linhardt says the purpose of next week’s vigil in Springfield is to raise awareness for Russell Bucklew, the man scheduled to be executed on the 21st, and also to share in remembrance of all victims of violent crime.

“To make a statement to the public that there are individuals who believe that taking of another human life is not the appropriate way to address violence in our society,” said Linhardt.

Linhardt and the MADP believe that Bucklew should serve life in prison as opposed to execution, because of a heart condition that would greatly increase the risk of a painful botched execution like the case of Clayton Lockett last month in Oklahoma.

Lockett was believed to be unconscious when the execution drugs were administered, according to Linhardt.

“But after so many minutes into the execution apparently he wasn’t unconscious, the drugs didn’t work right. He began withering, moaning, and screaming. Witnesses who were there say it was a very agonizing sight. The curtains were closed and basically corrections officials announced that after 40 minutes he died from a heart attack,” said Linhardt.

In response, last week Missourians for an Alternative to the Death Penalty along with the ACLU sent pleas to Gov. Jay Nixon, asking that he halt all executions until transparency and oversight are brought to the Missouri process.

"We are calling on the governor to stop all executions, and we particularly ask him to stop the execution of Mr. Bucklew because of the severe risk of a botched execution,” said Linhardt.

On Thursday, two lawsuits were filed comprising five news organization and the ACLU of Missouri challenging the state’s refusal to disclose information and documents regarding its execution drug. 

The lawsuits demand that the Department of Corrections disclose where the drugs are coming from, what is in them, and how they are tested.

Scott Holste the press secretary for Governor Nixon.

“The Department of Corrections carries out these executions in a professional manner that is humane, efficient, and effective and [Governor Nixon] has confidence in that department to continue doing so,” said Holste.

Regarding the execution of Russell Bucklew next week, Holste said the matter is being litigated in the courts and if a petition for clemency is filed, a comprehensive review will take place before the Governor makes any decision.

In Springfield, the MADP’s vigil will take place Tuesday, May 20th from noon to 1pm at Park Central Square downtown. This vigil is one of nine planned to take place that day throughout Missouri.

For KSMU News, I’m Shane Franklin.