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Pharmacy agrees not to provide execution drugs

The decision by the Tulsa-based pharmacy throws the schedule execution of Michael Taylor into doubt.
The execution chamber at the Missouri Correctional Center in Bonne Terre, Mo.
The execution chamber at the Missouri Correctional Center in Bonne Terre, Mo.

A pharmacy that had been set to provide the state of Missouri with drugs needed for an execution later this month has agreed not to do so, according to court documents filed Monday.

Lawyers for Michael Taylor, the Missouri inmate scheduled for lethal injection on Feb. 26, had filed a lawsuit claiming that the state could not guarantee the quality of the drugs to be used and that the drugs could cause cruel and unusual punishment during the execution. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon's office said last week that the state already had the drugs needed to carry out Taylor's death sentence.

Michael Anthony Taylor

Papers filed Monday, according to the Associated Press, said the pharmacy had agreed not to provide or prepare any pentobarbital for the execution, and that the pharmacy had not already supplied the state with the necessary drugs. The Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Apothecary Shoppe had been tapped to provide compounded pentobarbital for the execution because the only company licensed to manufacture pentobarbital has agreed not to sell it for executions, according to the report.

U.S. District Judge Terence Kern dismissed Taylor’s lawsuit against the Apothecary Shoppe Tuesday, after the agreement was reached. Missouri officials said Tuesday afternoon that the execution would still take place on February 26 but have not revealed the source of the drugs they plan to use.

The Apothecary Shoppe has not confirmed publicly that it supplies Missouri with drugs for lethal injections; the state has a law preventing members of its execution team from disclosing their identities.

Since Akorn Inc, the U.S. manufacturer of the drug used in executions, has agreed not to sell it for that purpose, many states have confronted drug shortages and have sometimes turned to so-called "compounding pharmacies" to mix batches of the drug independently. The lawsuit filed by Taylor's lawyers cited recent cases in which compounded pentobarbitol led to executions that appeared extremely painful and stretched far longer than what had previously been considered normal. During a January execution in Oklahoma, the condemned man claimed he felt his whole body burning seconds after he had been injected with pentobarbitol. The suit also pointed to a South Dakota inmate's 2012 execution; it took 20 minutes to declare him dead, and his skin turned purple.

At another execution that month, an Ohio inmate thrashed and gasped for air and took nearly 25 minutes to die after being given a new lethal drug cocktail that had never been used before. These executions have stirred controversy over execution methods in the 32 states that still have the death penalty and have led to new discussions about the death penalty's utility. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee suspended the death penalty in his state on Feb. 12.