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Missouri Department of Corrections cannot shield pharmacy by saying it is part of execution team

California Department of Corrections

Updated 1:25 p.m. July 17 with the third ruling.

A Missouri judge has ruledthat the state Department of Corrections violated the sunshine law when it refused to disclose the name of the pharmacy that supplies drugs for lethal injections.State law allows the Department of Corrections to keep the members of its execution team secret. In 2013, the department announced that it was making a compounding pharmacy a member of that team. Three separate groups sued when the state refused to grant their open records requests for the name of that pharmacy. One included a former reporter for St. Louis Public Radio, Chris McDaniel. 

The three suits all centered around what the law means when it says those who provide "direct support for the administration of lethal gas or lethal chemicals." In decisions handed down Wednesday and Friday, Judge Jon Beetum ruled that the department exceeded its authority when it added the pharmacy and testing labs to the execution team because they did not provide what could be considered "direct support." 

"[State law] states that the identities of members of the execution team, as defined in the execution protocol of the department of corrections, shall be kept confidential," Beetumwrote in an opinion in the case brought by the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the former public radio employee. "This provision does not, however, empower the DOC to define the execution team as it wishes, without limitation. ... Laboratories are not 'persons' within the meeting of Section 546.720.2."

The ACLU celebrated the ruling.

"When it comes to an issue of public policy as important as the death penalty, it's disappointing when our government breaks the law," said Jeffrey Mittman, the organization's executive director. "Fortunately, the courts stand ready to protect the rights of the people of Missouri."

Despite Beetum's decision, the name of the compounding pharmacy and any labs that test the quality of the drugs will not be released immediately. The judge wants to make sure that the records don't accidentally identify individuals who help carry out executions in Missouri.

A spokeswoman for attorney general Chris Koster said the office was reviewing the rulings. The state has 10 days to appeal. 

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.