Corrections confirms its execution team is in place

ST. LOUIS | Missouri appears ready to resume executions for the first time in nearly three years.

The Missouri Supreme Court said late Friday it will set dates for two men in "due course" while the Department of Corrections confirmed Monday for the first time that its execution team is in place.

"Our execution team is in place and we're ready to go," Corrections spokesman Brian Hauswirth said. "We're waiting for the Supreme Court to set an execution date."

The state disclosed in federal court papers last month that its execution team includes a nurse and an anesthesiologist, despite professional guidelines against doctors taking part in executions.

The Supreme Court on Monday would not comment on the timing of its order, or whether it was prompted by news that medical professionals had been recruited for the execution team. A court spokeswoman said the court "believed it was appropriate based on the facts of the case."

The court's two-sentence order upheld Attorney General Jay Nixon's requests to set execution dates for two Missouri men convicted of murder more than a decade ago. It said execution dates for John Middleton and Russell Bucklew would be set in "due course."

Bucklew, 40, of Cape Girardeau, shot and killed his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend, Michael Sanders, in front of the woman and four children in 1996.

Middleton, 48, of Spickard, received three death sentences for the murders of Alfred Pinegar, Stacy Hodge and Randy Hamilton in 1995.

In the last year, Nixon has asked for execution dates for 14 condemned prisoners. Currently, 47 await the death penalty.

Missouri hasn't executed an inmate since convicted killer Marlin Gray was put to death in October 2005. The next in line, convicted killer Michael Taylor, won an 11th-hour stay of execution in February 2006.

Taylor's subsequent challenges to Missouri's lethal injection procedures prompted a federal judge in 2006 to issue an execution moratorium that was later lifted.

Missouri wasn't alone. A number of states that use lethal injection withheld executions while the U.S. Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of the procedure.

The high court in April upheld it, but left the door open to challenging lethal injection procedures in states where problems with administering the drugs are well documented.

Some Missouri condemned prisoners are suing to stop the Department of Corrections from using unfit or untrained people for its execution team.

The department recently won the legal right to protect the identity of its execution team, but the state has agreed to provide information on team members' licensing, credentials and training.

Hauswirth said medical personnel will perform the duties assigned to them in the department's lethal injection protocol.

The team's duties include preparing the chemicals, inserting intravenous lines, monitoring the prisoner and supervising the injection of chemicals by corrections employees, all of which violate professional medical groups' policies against physician participation in executions.

In 2006, the surgeon who previously oversaw the state's executions testified in another court case that he was dyslexic and sometimes transposed numbers.