Oklahoma to resume lethal injections 5 years after botched execution of Clayton Lockett

Feb. 13 (UPI) — Oklahoma officials announced Thursday plans to resume executions in the state nearly six years after the use of an incorrect drug led to the botched execution of a murderer.

Gov. Kevin Stitt said that after mulling the option of using nitrogen gas to cary out executions, the state has now found a “reliable supply of drugs” to resume lethal injections.

“It is important that the state is implementing our death penalty law with a procedure that is humane and swift for those convicted of the most heinous of crimes,” he said during a news conference with Attorney General Mike Hunter and Department of Corrections Director Scott Crow.

“Director Crow and Attorney General Mike Hunter have worked diligently and thoroughly to create a path forward to resume the death penalty in Oklahoma, and the time has come to deliver accountability and justice to the victims who have suffered unthinkable loss and pain.”

Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol came under scrutiny in 2014 when Clayton Lockett died of a heart attack amid complications during his execution.

Autopsy reports released a year later indicated Oklahoma corrections officials used the wrong drug — potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride — during the process. Lockett complained of a burning sensation and attempted to raise his head and speak after doctors declared he was unconscious.

The same incorrect drug was delivered to corrections officials for use in the planned 2015 execution of Richard Glossip. Former Gov. Mary Ballin called off Glossip’s execution with a last-minute, indefinite stay after she learned of the discrepancy.

Oklahoma has carried out only one other execution since Lockett’s, that of Charles Warner in January 2015. He received a nine-month stay due to the previous botched lethal injection.

Since then, the state had an unofficial moratorium on executions as it attempted to secure a supply of lethal injection drugs. Oklahoma uses a three-drug cocktail of midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride.

Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said the organization disagrees with Oklahoma’s decision to resume executions and points to its past “miserable and grisly” failures.

“The government’s actions remain shrouded in secrecy and they continue to refuse to share important details of the execution protocol. In short, the government’s stated position is ‘trust us,'” he said.

“Combine the random nature of who gets the death penalty, with the state’s repeated failures in carrying out executions, the government’s refusal to share information, and the possibility of Oklahoma executing an innocent person, and it just seems like common sense that we should not trust the government with this awesome and irrevocable power.”

Executions in the United States have undergone changes in recent years after states started running out of the essential lethal injection drug pentobarbital. The European Union in 2011 voted to prohibit the sale of the drug and seven other barbiturates to the United States for use in torture or executions. Other pharmaceutical companies have refused to sell drugs for lethal injection purposes outright, and some will only sell if their name is kept confidential.

Now states are being forced to use new drug cocktails, scramble to restock their stores of drugs and review their lethal injection policies.

In 2018, Oklahoma’s attorney general’s office announced it would use nitrogen gas inhalation as its primary method of execution. Officials, though, had difficulty finding a manufacturer to sell a method for administering the gas for an execution. Additionally, state law says nitrogen hypoxia may be used for executions only if drugs for lethal injections are unavailable.

“My commitment to Oklahomans who remain tormented by the loss of their loved ones has been that we would go any route necessary to resume executions as expeditiously as possible within the rule of law,” Hunter said.

“They have endured enough through the decades of waiting on the lengthy appeals process and the state’s attempts to get the protocol right. I appreciate Director Crow and his team for their tireless search to acquire the drugs from a reliable source. Because of these efforts, we can finally tell the victims their wait for justice is nearly over.”

Forty-seven people currently sit on death row in Oklahoma, including 30 who have exhausted the appeals process and are eligible for execution dates.

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