The high court did not state in its orders why it decided now to set execution dates. Executions essentially have been on hold in Missouri since the court declined last August to set dates for six inmates. The court said then that execution dates would be "premature" until a legal challenge in federal court was resolved regarding the use of the drug propofol as Missouri's designated execution method.
On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court set an Oct. 23 execution date for Allen Nicklasson and a Nov. 20 date for Joseph Franklin.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, who last month had asked the high court to set execution dates for the two long-serving inmates, said he was pleased it re-examined the issue.
"The death penalty remains a legal punishment in our state," Koster said in a statement. "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."
Jennifer Herndon, an attorney who represents both men, said: "We're disappointed, and we think there are valid reasons not to carry out the dates."
Propofol gained attention in 2009 as the anesthetic drug that killed pop star Michael Jackson. It has not been used as an execution drug, and defense attorneys representing inmates have asserted its use could violate constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
Drug-maker Fresenius Kabi USA said last year it would not sell propofol to states seeking to use it for executions. The German company has U.S. offices based in Schaumburg, Ill.
The Missouri Department of Corrections has three quantities of propofol remaining, the state attorney general's office said in court document filed in July when it requested the setting of execution dates. One expires in October, another in May 2014 and the third in 2015.
Nicklasson was convicted of the 1994 killing of Excelsior Springs businessman Richard Drummond, who stopped to help when a car used by Nicklasson and two others broke down on Interstate 70 in Callaway County in central Missouri. Drummond was forced to drive the group west and was shot in the back of the head in a field in Lafayette County in western Missouri. Another man in the car, Dennis Skillicorn, was executed in 2009.
Franklin was convicted of the 1977 sniper shooting of Gerald Gordon as a crowd dispersed from a bar mitzvah at the Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel Congregation in the St. Louis suburb of Richmond Heights. Two others were wounded.
A drifter from Mobile, Ala., Franklin has said he tried to start a race war by traveling the country shooting people. When he confessed in 1994 to the shooting, he was serving several life sentences in a federal prison for the killing of two black joggers in Salt Lake City and an interracial couple in Madison, Wis., and the bombing of a synagogue in Chattanooga, Tenn.