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Missouri prepares execution amid controversy


The US state of Missouri is preparing to execute the convicted killer of an adolescent on Wednesday, less than a month after executing a man minutes before the US Supreme Court ruled on an appeal.

The planned execution comes amid controversy over the chemicals being used to give death row inmates lethal injections.

Executions have been gathering pace in the central state, to the rate of about one per month.

This time, the death row inmate is Michael Taylor, 47, who is scheduled to die February 26 sometime before midnight in the town of Bonne Terre.

He was sentenced to death in 1989 for the rape and murder of an adolescent girl who was abducted when she got off her school bus.

Prior to this, the last execution was that of Herbert Smulls, who was declared dead on the night of January 29, a little over an hour before the legal period for his execution ended.

His many appeals had all been rejected, except one filed two hours before midnight with the US Supreme Court. It had yet to rule when the lethal injection process began.

Smulls was declared dead four minutes before the court ultimately rejected his final appeal, according to his lawyer Joseph Luby.

Five days after the execution, US Supreme Court clerk Scott Harris was still pressing authorities in Missouri to respond to a complaint filed January 28 by Smulls and other death row inmates.

After Joseph Franklin on November 20, 2013 and Allen Nicklasson on December 11, Smulls was the third man executed in Missouri before all their appeals were exhausted.

The chief justice of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge William Riley, said "some members of the Supreme Court did not appreciate that."

- The ghost of Smulls -

But the execution of Smulls was perfectly legal because "No stay of execution was in effect at the time of execution," wrote Missouri attorney general Chris Koster.

David Hansen, a state assistant attorney general, said "death row attorneys have developed a legitimate and very deliberate strategy to ensure that there is always a stay motion pending."

Still, "the ghost of Herbert Smulls haunts Missouri's death penalty plans," wrote Andrew Cohen, an analyst with the Brennan Center for Justice and writer for The Atlantic magazine.

The next death row inmate, Michael Taylor, is filing appeals.

A day before his scheduled execution, a stay of execution appeal is being examined by a federal court in Missouri on the grounds of "violations of equal protection and due process", stemming from the executions of Franklin, Nicklasson and Smulls.

The same court is examining a separate appeal from Taylor "based on absence of lawful means of execution."

The state is debating which chemicals to use to put people to death.

Since European manufacturers stopped providing the most common anaesthesia, pentobarbital, for executions of humans, several states are running low on execution chemicals and turning to new suppliers or products that have not been widely approved.

This has led many US death row inmates to file suits on grounds they fear the new products could subject them to undue suffering.