Missouri killer set for execution, scrutiny high after Arizona

Tue Aug 5, 2014 11:06am EDT

(Reuters) - Missouri officials are pressing forward with the Wednesday execution of convicted killer Michael Worthington despite calls for caution after last month's problematic execution in Arizona in which the inmate took more than an hour to die.

The Missouri execution will be the first since the July 23 execution in Arizona of Joseph Wood, who some witnesses said gasped and struggled for breath for more than 90 minutes as he was put to death at a state prison complex.

Attorneys for Worthington have filed two different stay applications with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the high court to prohibit Missouri from putting Worthington to death until more scrutiny is given to what happened in Arizona and to ongoing secrecy in Missouri about the lethal injection drugs being used.

"It seems like it would be a reasonable request. The Arizona case ... gives us some additional ammunition," said attorney Kent Gibson, who is representing Worthington.

The complications in the Arizona execution came after two other lethal injections went awry earlier this year in Ohio and Oklahoma.

The American Civil Liberties Union on Monday called for a national suspension of executions due to what it has called a string of "botched" executions recently. States need to provide more transparency and accountability before executions resume, the ACLU said.

"Every state contemplating a future execution by lethal injection ought to be scrutinizing their process," said Brian Stull, an ACLU attorney.

Lethal injection drugs have been the subject of mounting controversy and court challenges as many states have started using drugs supplied by lightly regulated compounding pharmacies because traditional suppliers have backed away from the market. Several states, including Missouri, have refused to provide details about where they are getting the drugs.

Missouri said Tuesday that there is no need to suspend executions. The state uses pentobarbital, not the two-chemical combination used in Arizona, and its execution procedure is proper, according to the Missouri Attorney General's Office.

Worthington, 43, is set to die at 12:01 a.m. central standard time Wednesday. He was convicted of murder for the 1995 rape and strangling of a suburban St. Louis woman.

Worthington is one of more than a dozen inmates who are challenging Missouri's lethal injection protocols in a federal lawsuit.

A hearing in that case is set for Sept. 9 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in St. Louis, Missouri.

(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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