Lawmaker calls for full review of lethal injection protocols

Rep. John Rizzo, D-Kansas City, wants to put the death penalty on hold while a commission investigates how Missouri carries out lethal injections.

One of the state's top-ranking house Democrats filed a measure Monday to review Missouri's lethal injection protocols and put executions on hold while the review takes place.

House Minority Whip John Rizzo, D-Kansas City, told KRCG 13 he wants legislators to investigate, among other things, whether Missouri's use of an out-of-state compounding pharmacy to mix its execution drugs is a violation of state law, something State Auditor Tom Schweich announced Monday he is already looking into. He said he does not intend his measure to effect broad changes to the state's capital punishment statutes.

"There might be honest-to-goodness reasons that are good and forthright," he said. "If there are, we'd like to hear them. We just would like to add more transparency."

Under Rizzo's proposal, an eleven-person commission, including two Democratic and two Republican lawmakers, a county prosecutor, the attorney general and two doctors, would study all aspects of lethal injection in the state, ranging from the source of the drugs used in executions to challenges to injections to the effectiveness of the drugs used. All executions would be halted while the commission conducted its review. His proposal states the commission's purpose "shall not extend to reevaluating the policy decisions of the general assembly in enacting a death penalty nor the means chosen by the general assembly in implementing the state's death penalty." The commission could not, for example, explore the use of the gas chamber, which Attorney General Chris Koster and Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, proposed doing in September while the state was looking for a drug to use to put Allen Nicklasson to death. State law permist the use of lethal gas but Missouri does not currently have an operational gas chamber.

House Corrections Committee chair Paul Fitzwater, R-Potosi, whose district includes the Potosi Correctional Center where executions are carried out, told KRCG 13 he was open to a review of how lethal injection is used. He said he would be happy to give Rizzo's proposal a hearing if it is assigned to his committee.

Obviously, there are some questions that need to be answered and this might be a good time to do it," he said.

A few hours before Rizzo filed his measure, the anti-death penalty group Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty held a press conference marking 25 years since executions resumed in Missouri. The group has said giving the worst criminals a life sentence without the possibility of parole is a more effective option. Fitzwater said he would not necessarily support a repeal of the death penalty because he feels the state needs a way to punish those who commit particularly heinous crimes.

Rizzo's measure has not yet been formally introduced in the state's House of Representatives. It would be come effective immediately if it is passed.