JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi prison system can keep concealing the identity of its execution drug supplier while the system appeals an order to release the information, the Mississippi Supreme Court said in a 5-3 ruling Friday.
The ruling freezes a March order by Hinds County Chancery Judge Denise Owens, who had said the state's public records law requires officials to release the information, sought by death-penalty opponents at the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center.
The state has argued that releasing the supplier's name could allow death penalty opponents to terminate the supply using public pressure. MacArthur Center lawyer Jim Craig disputes that claim, saying it's important to have a full accounting of where Mississippi is getting its death penalty drugs and how it plans to use them.
"They don't want us looking behind the curtain to see what the Wizard of Oz is doing with this power," Craig said in a phone interview Friday.
Craig had asked the high court to freeze executions if it blocked Owens' order, but the court refused. It did order that lawyers file appeal papers on an expedited schedule.
Three justices dissented from the order. Associate Justice James Kitchens wrote that he didn't think the state had shown enough likelihood that it would win an appeal to override Owens' refusal to grant a stay.
"I can find no reason to second-guess the sound judgment of the chancellor in her denial of (the Mississippi Department of Corrections') motion for a stay," Kitchens wrote. "Based on the record before this court at present, I am of the opinion that MDOC's request for a stay fails on each and every factor this court must consider."
Justices Jess Dickinson and Leslie King said they would have granted the stay but barred executions during the appeal.
Friday's move comes as Craig is also attacking Mississippi's current lethal injection methods in separate federal and state lawsuits. Earlier this week, on behalf of two death row prisoners, Craig filed a request with U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate to block the state prison system from using specially made anesthetic as the drug that's supposed to knock out prisoners before an executioner delivers a paralyzing agent and a heart-stopping poison.
The motion for a preliminary injunction argues that pentobarbital made by a compounding pharmacy doesn't meet Mississippi's legal requirement for an "ultra short-acting barbiturate or other similar drug." Craig also argues that because the state has admitted that it doesn't know the original source of its pentobarbital powder, there's no guarantee of its purity or strength. That could lead to a prisoner suffering suffocation and intense burning when the other drugs are administered.
Craig argues Mississippi should switch to an execution method that relies only on a heavy dose of anesthetic to kill a prisoner.
"I just think it's unconscionable to have one of these executions without answering these questions," Craig said.