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Missouri’s high court won’t intervene in execution drug case

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri Supreme Court won’t review a lower court ruling that spares the state’s prison system from having to reveal where it gets drugs used in executions, though attorneys pressing for the details plan more appeals using different arguments.

Missouri’s high court, without comment Tuesday, rejected a request to review the case from the American Civil Liberties Union, the nonprofit Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and other plaintiffs, including The Associated Press. The appeal argued that the state’s source of execution drugs should be disclosed under Missouri’s open-records laws.

An attorney for the media outlets, Bernie Rhodes, said Wednesday that they plan to appeal to a circuit court where a judge sided with them last year, this time arguing that news agencies have a right to the information under the U.S. Constitution’s free-press protections.

“The First Amendment is of no value if you can’t get the information to report,” Rhodes said, acknowledging the appeals process could take time.

Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem ordered the state in March 2016 to reveal where it gets its pentobarbital, a powerful barbiturate the state uses to execute prisoners. But in February, a three-judge Missouri Court of Appeals panel overturned Beetem’s ruling, concluding that disclosing the identities of “individuals essential to the execution process” could hinder Missouri’s ability to execute prisoners.

Corrections officials have refused to disclose who supplies the drug, saying that source is shielded as part of its “execution team.”

A message left Wednesday with a department spokesman was not immediately returned. The department routinely has declined to publicly discuss the matter, citing the unresolved litigation.

The sources of the drugs in Missouri and other death-penalty states are widely believed to be compounding pharmacies, which make drugs tailored to a client’s specific needs. Those pharmacies do not face the same approval process or testing standards of larger pharmaceutical companies, which has spawned lawsuits by watchdogs pressing for them to be publicly known and properly scrutinized.

Missouri, which has 26 condemned inmates, next is scheduled to execute Marcellus Williams on Aug. 22 by injection for the 1998 stabbing death of a former newspaper reporter during a suburban St. Louis burglary.

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