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Lethal Injection Mix-ups Only the Latest in Oklahoma Death Penalty Mishaps


They say there is a right way and a wrong way to do anything, but if the state of Oklahoma's handling of recent death penalty cases is any indication, there is just no getting some things right.

Obviously, capital punishment is a controversial topic. Some are adamant supporters of the death penalty, taking literally the idea of "an eye for an eye." If someone kills another person, then he or she likewise should be put to death. Others are vehemently opposed to the death penalty, upholding the sanctity of all life and citing an inability to be certain that any execution method is relatively painless and free from "cruel and unusual punishment."

But no matter where you stand on the issue, one thing is clear: Oklahoma is messing up. 

First, came the lawsuits that pitted the state's highest courts against each other, with neither the Oklahoma Supreme Court or the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals believing that the other court had appropriate jurisdiction over the cases. The lawsuits argued that because the Department of Corrections would not disclose its sources in obtaining the drugs used in the state's lethal injection protocol, there could be no certainty of the effectiveness of the drugs or their ability to provide a death that did not violate the condemned inmates' Eighth Amendment rights.

Eventually, the court ruled that the inmates did not have a constitutional right to know which compounding pharmacy provided the drugs.

Next came the botched execution of Clayton Lockett, who took 45 minutes to die after a blown vein led to inappropriate administration of the lethal injection drugs. The execution was called off, and Lockett eventually died of a heart attack nearly an hour after the execution was started. Lockett's death was one of a series of apparently painful executions around the nation.

Lockett's death was followed by a lawsuit to the United States Supreme Court that challenged the use of midazolam in lethal injections. In a highly debated and divisive ruling, the Court followed precedent in saying that lethal injection had already been ruled constitutional, and that it would not rule on the use of each individual drug that might be proposed for lethal injection.

The death penalty was back in force in Oklahoma, and the state executed inmate Charles Warner, one of the inmates involved in the initial lawsuit and who was scheduled to die the same day as Lockett, but who received a brief reprieve after his fellow inmates chaotic death.

Another inmate, Richard Eugene Glossip, was scheduled to die recently, althought his execution has been highly protested by those who say his conviction is based on nothing more than the accusation of the actual killer.Glossip received a handful of stays because of lawsuits and appeals, but Governor Mary Fallin repeatedly refused to commute his sentence or stay his execution. 

That is, until an eleventh hour stay prompted by the DOC's receipt of the wrong drug.

Oklahoma state law stipulates a 3-drug execution protocol utilizing midazolam to sedate the inmate, pancuronium bromide to paralyze the inmate, and potassium chloride to stop his or her heart. For Glossip's execution, the state received potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride. 

And since the news of the lethal injection drug mix-up broke, it has been revealed that the DOC actually used potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride in the execution of Charles Warner.

Oklahoma's Attorney General has since suspended all scheduled executions: including Glossip's, which was rescheduled for November 6; Benjamin Cole's, whose execution was scheduled for October 7; and John Grant, whose execution was scheduled for October 28.

Governor Mary Fallin has questioned whether the death penalty will remain viable in Oklahoma after so many difficulties and egregious mishaps. Fallin said of the continued mistakes, "...it certainly is not helpful to us having the death penalty in Oklahoma."

Oklahoma is the birthplace of execution by lethal injection. Will it also be the site of its demise? 

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