The Missouri Department of Corrections will no longer ban the May edition of St. Louis Magazine, finally allowing inmates to read an in-depth story about Missouri's shrouded and secretive execution process that officials had thought would instill violence or hatred.
The story "How We Kill: The State of the Death Penalty," written by senior editor Bill Powell, illustrates Missouri's ultimate punishment by offering a moment-by-moment look at death-row inmate Herbert Smulls' final day before execution.
Earlier this month, the prison system sent St. Louis Magazine a letter saying Powell's story would be banned from correctional facilities statewide.
"This issue has been censored due to the content which contains information which can be used to instill violence or hatred among the offender population," says the letter signed by Terry Russell, warden at the center where Missouri executes prisoners.
Powell and St. Louis Magazine appealed that ruling, arguing that if anyone in the world deserved to know how Missouri treats prisoners, it's prisoners.
It looks like the appeal worked. Dave Dormire, director of the Division of Adult Institutions, sent the magazine a letter saying he'd overturn the ban.
"I agree that the article itself does not cause concerns that are likely to cause violence," Dormire wrote, "however, I also understand the institution's hesitance to allow the article. The institution will be advised to give this publication to the intended offenders."
Death-row inmate Russell Bucklew had his scheduled execution stopped by the U.S. Supreme Court this week. Bucklew -- who murdered a romantic rival in front of his children, kidnapped and raped his ex-girlfriend and shot a state trooper -- has a birth defect that affects his veins and head, potentially making death by lethal injection excruciatingly painful, his lawyers say.
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito halted the execution with just two hours to spare Tuesday night, and the full court decided to send the case back down to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, which had already approved Bucklew's execution, for another review.
A recent execution in Oklahoma went terribly wrong when the prisoner's vein collapsed, causing him to writhe in visible pain. Oklahoma uses the same unregulated cocktail and secretive execution process that Missouri does.
Powell says he's happy that inmates will have the chance to read his story.
"It's probably the happiest anyone has ever been to be back in prison," he says.
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