Missouri Attorney General Calls For Revival Of Gas Chambers

(Credit: Associated Press)

Intent on moving forward with scheduled executions at any price, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said this week he would resort to the gas chamber while other methods are tied up in court battle.

Koster’s comments are the latest move to push forward executions, as litigation over the humanity of lethal injections using the anesthetic propofol continues. Koster dismissed concerns over the cruelty of reviving the gas chamber in an exchange with The Associated Press, saying, “The premeditated murder of an innocent Missourian is cruel and unusual punishment. The lawful implementation of the death penalty, following a fair and reasoned jury trial, is not.”

Missouri stopped using the gas chamber in 1965 and shut down its last prison containing a gas chamber decades ago, according to AP. California’s use of the gas chamber was deemed cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment by one federal appeals court in 1996.

Gas chamber executions have been known to take upwards of ten minutes, and one prison warden said after an 11-minute execution that he would quit if forced to perform one again. Witnesses to others have reported gasping, moans, with one inmate banging his head against a steel pole.

At least four other states’ laws allow death by gas chamber, but they each either limit its use to certain circumstances, or give inmates a choice between that and lethal injection. The last execution using this method occurred in in 1999 in Arizona, when a German national convicted in the United States had a choice and opted for the gas chamber, prompting international outrage over its resonance of Holocaust Germany. No other country has used the gas chamber as a lawful method of execution, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

Attorney General Koster is calling for the method in his latest move to thwart delays in executions, as litigation continues over use of the drug propofol, which has never before been used for the death penalty. Missouri turned to the anesthetic after the makers of one drug in the more traditional 3-drug cocktail stopped selling it for executions. But experts warned from the start that use of the controversial drug could mire executions in litigation. Koster turning to gas chambers to speed up the process would not only spark outrage and even more litigation; it would also require the state to invest in a new facility for performing the executions, even as the death penalty is falling out of favor nationwide.