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The Killing State

In 2014, Missouri executed ten inmates. Texas, a state with four times the population, executed the same number. A team of 12 reporters investigated almost every angle of capital punishment in Missouri. We now present an encyclopedia, covering everything from anti-death penalty protests to the zip codes that execute the most people.

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G: Guilt


Last year, 35 people were executed in the U.S. Missouri accounted for 10 of them, its highest number ever.

As capital punishment has dwindled nationally, Missouri has jumped into the spotlight of an increasingly complex and controversial topic. Missouri is one of the death penalty states that has introduced new pharmaceuticals used in lethal injections and tinkered with the proportions of its drug cocktails — but it has done so with minimal testing and varying degrees of success and with protocols hidden, by law, from the public. Missouri continues its procedures despite a recent history of botched executions in other states; and despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s intention to decide, for the first time since 2008, whether lethal injections violate Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment; and despite pharmacists’ and physicians’ voiced condemnation of the process. In March, the American Pharmacists Association passed guidelines discouraging sales of drugs used for lethal injections, and the American Medical Association firmly states that physicians should not participate in executions.

The method of execution isn’t the only issue that has drawn criticism. Missouri recently executed a man who was missing a part of his brain. Since November 2013, the state has executed three men before their appeals had been exhausted. In 2013, Gov. Jay Nixon sent panic through the medical community when he originally refused to back down from the state’s plan to use the anesthetic propofol, even after the European Union, alarmed by states’ plans to use the drug in executions, threatened to slow exports. Propofol had reached the Missouri Department of Corrections by mistake and wasn’t returned for nearly a year.

In order to illuminate the varying angles of capital punishment in Missouri, a team of 12 reporters developed this topic into a comprehensive alphabetically ordered guide. Any encyclopedia aims to inform, and we realize the term conjures a boring image, but this is not that type of encyclopedia. We present you with facts (See C: Cost for capital punishment statistics you might not expect), but we also take you inside the old gas chamber at the Missouri State Penitentiary (See G: Gas Chamber). We take you back to the first lethal injection in U.S. history (See B: Brooks), and we introduce you to those directly impacted by capital punishment (See F: Family). We also talk to students at MU (See Y: Youth), to see how much they know about the death penalty in their own state.

What does it take to end a life? The people you’ll meet here have already faced that question: on death row, in their Jefferson City offices, in classrooms or courtrooms or wherever thoughts wander. The question isn’t going away, and Missouri stands to be a significant player in death penalty politics for years to come.

Table of Contents



A: Anesthesiologists

The Hippocratic oath advises to do no harm, leaving physicians who administer the death penalty with an ethical dilemma

A: Anti-Death Penalty Protest

Protestors speak out against the execution of Earl Ringo Jr.
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B: Brooks, Charles

Charles Brooks was the first man to die by lethal injection

C: Cost

Missouri Sen. Joseph Keaveny wants to know just how much capital punishment costs the state

D: Death Row

Missouri ranks fifth in the nation in number of executions since 1976 and currently 32 capital punishment inmates are awaiting execution


Advances in technology have created a test with the power to overturn convictions

E: Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center

Capital punishment inmates are executed at Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center

in the quiet town of Bonne Terre

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F: Family

Emotional suffering extends to the relatives of all involved

G: Gas Chamber

One reporter visits the Missouri State Penitentiary and reimagines the final walk of a capital punishment inmate
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G: Guilt

In Missouri, first-degree murder warrants consideration of the death penalty,

but only if other variables occurred at the time of the murder

H: Haste

Is Missouri executing too quickly?

I: Information, Public

The Missouri Department of Corrections is a public agency, yet it repeatedly declined requests for information

J: Justice, Restorative

For Jim Hall, seeing his daughter's killer executed did not end his suffering

K: Karma

The moral implications of taking the life of a convicted murderer

L: Lethal Injection

Missouri now conducts executions with lethal injection, a process with its own set of challenges

M: Meal, Last

The seemingly ironic ritual of a prisoner's last meal dates back to ancient times
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N: Nixon, Gov. Jay

The state’s highest elected official has the sole power to grant or deny clemency to capital punishment inmates

O: Oversight, Forensic

Between unreliable hair microscopy and exaggerated DNA results,

state labs struggle to deliver accurate and effect evidence for criminal cases

P: Pharmaceuticals

Drugs used in executions and their chemical effects on capital punishment prisoners
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P: Potosi Correctional Center

Missouri, unlike other death penalty states, houses its capital punishment inmates

with the general prison population

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Q: Quotient, Intelligence

Executing inmates with impaired mental ability raises debate

R: Race

How race impacts the justice system and who’s responsible

R: Roper v. Simmons

Juvenile Missouri residents could be sentenced to death, until 2005

S: Secrecy

State execution methods lose transparency with extension of “black hood law”

T: Time

Tracking the death penalty through minutes, hours, days and years

T: Texas

Last year, Missouri tied the Lone Star State for most executions

U: Unanimity

One juror's courtroom decision haunts her today
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V: Victims

These are some of the people whose murders resulted in death penalty sentences

W: Witness

A reporter recounts his experience watching an execution
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X: Xenophon

The ancient Greek wrote about a quick death, something denied to Emmitt Foster in 1995

Y: Youth

What MU students know (and don’t know) about the death penalty in Missouri

Z: Zip Codes

Missouri executions by county since 1976

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