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Missouri Supreme Court sets execution dates for two death row inmates

By Kevin Murphy

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - The Missouri Supreme Court set execution dates on Wednesday for two death row inmates after suspending the decision a year ago due to concerns over the type of drug the state wants to use in executions.

The court's order did not explain why it has decided to set the execution dates. Last year, the court stayed the executions because of a legal challenge in federal court over Missouri's use of the sedative propofol as the lethal drug of choice.

A group of death row inmates in Missouri have argued in lawsuits that the drug, which was blamed for the 2009 death of pop star Michael Jackson, causes pain and is cruel and unusual punishment. Missouri revised its execution protocol in 2012 to include the drug but has not held an execution since.

The state Supreme Court set an October 23 date for the execution of Allen Nicklasson and a November 20 date for the execution of Joseph Franklin, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said on Wednesday.

Nicklasson was found guilty of murder in 1996 and Franklin of murder a year later.

The attorney general asked the court on July 1 to set the execution dates for Nicklasson and Franklin because the state's remaining supply of propofol would expire next year. At the time, Koster called the pending litigation "an artificial hurdle" to block imposition of the death penalty.

"We are pleased that the court has re-examined the issue, and granted the motions," Koster said. "The death penalty remains a legal punishment in our state. By setting these execution dates, the court has taken an important step to see that justice is finally done for the victims and their families."

Last month, Koster said continued delays in Missouri executions could force state lawmakers to find alternative methods of putting prisoners to death.

The state might even have to resort to the gas chamber as the only other authorized form of execution in the state, he said.

Nicklasson was convicted of shooting motorist Richard Drummond, who stopped on Interstate 70 to help him and two other men whose car broke down. One of those men, Dennis Skillicorn, was executed in 2009.

Franklin was convicted in 1997 of shooting Gerald Gordon to death in the parking lot of a St. Louis-area synagogue after a bar mitzvah, Koster said.

He was also convicted for the murders of two joggers in Utah and a couple in Wisconsin, Koster said.

(Reporting by Kevin Murphy; Editing by Kevin Gray and Eric Beech)

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