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Mo. judge rejects death-row inmate’s secrecy challenge

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A Cole County judge has rejected a Missouri death row inmate’s request to force the state to disclose the identity of its drug supplier for lethal injections before his upcoming execution.

Condemned inmate John Winfield sought a preliminary injunction for the information. He argued that the Missouri Department of Corrections is violating state public records laws by keeping the information secret.

Circuit Judge Jon Beetem released a ruling Friday siding with the state’s argument that the Sunshine Law challenge needed to be brought to trial rather than through a court order. The judge set another hearing in the records case for June 13, five days before Winfield’s scheduled death.

Winfield’s attorney said he filed a request Friday for a stay of execution with the Missouri Supreme Court.

Like the vast majority of the 32 death penalty states that refuse to disclose the source of their execution drugs, Missouri prison officials and state prosecutors say that anonymity is vital to protecting the unidentified compounding pharmacy which supplies pentobarbital. They say that opponents of capital punishment could retaliate against the pharmacy, including possible physical harm to its employees.

But legal pressure against such secrecy is mounting as states have turned to the lightly regulated drugmakers after other manufacturers stopped supplying execution drugs for use in capital punishment.

Beetem still must rule on three separate public records lawsuits over the identity of Missouri’s drug suppliers. Plaintiffs include The Associated Press, The Kansas City Star, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a reporter for St. Louis Public Radio and retired Democratic state lawmaker Joan Bray of University City.

Missouri’s next execution would be its first since another convicted killer, Russell Bucklew, was spared on May 21, when the U.S. Supreme Court sent his case back to the appeals court. Another execution is scheduled for July. Since November 2013, Missouri has executed one death row inmate every month using pentobarbital.

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