Oklahoma Death Penalty Remains on Hiatus


It has been almost exactly three years since the botched execution of Oklahoma Death Row inmate Clayton Lockett on April 29, 2014. In that case, Lockett was the first to be executed of several death row inmates who sued the state over its refusal to reveal the identity of the compounding pharmacy used to provide lethal injection drugs to the state.

Lockett "blew a vein" during the injection process and writhed and convulsed on the guerney for several minutes before officials called off the execution. The inmate died of a heart attack later that evening--hardly the "humane" death supposedly granted to death row inmates.

Since then, Oklahoma executions have gone poorly to say the least. During Charles Warner's execution--which used the controversial drug midazolam--the inmate complained of burning. And in the eleventh hour, officials had to call off the execution of Richard Glossip when they discovered that the Department of Corrections had the wrong drug--potassium acetate instead of the potassium chloride required by state law in the lethal injection protocol. Turns out, that wrong drug had been used in Warner's execution. Oops.

It became clear that in Oklahoma's rush to execute its inmates, the state was too concerned with carrying out the death penalty, and not concerned enough with the details to make sure it was carried out according to law and with regard to Eighth Amendment rights of the condemned.

After the drug mix-up in September 2015, then-Attorney General Scott Pruitt indefinitely suspended executions in Oklahoma, saying his office needed "time to evaluate the events that transpired on September 30, 2015."

A subsequent grand jury investigation led to a 106-page report citing "inexcusable failures" on the part of the Department of Corrections.

Last week, the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission released a report saying that the state was not ready to re-instate the death penalty, given the significant failures to date. The Commission recommends extending the moratorium on the death penalty in Oklahoma until dozens of changes are made.

The report cites not only the difficulties with securing the appropriate drugs and the protocols ensuring the correct drugs and methods are used, but also the state's poor showing in sentencing innocent people to death. According to former Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry, who co-chaired the Commission, at least 10 death row inmates have been exonerated in the last forty years. Henry says, "While I do believe there are people who are so bad and so evil that they deserve the ultimate punishment, I think our process is broken, and until we fix it we shouldn't be executing people."

New Attorney General Mike Hunter "respectfully disagrees" with the Commission's findings, saying the state is "going to get a handle on the execution process." He expects new DOC leadership to develop a new execution protocol and is confident that the state will soon resume executions. The Attorney General's Office says it will not begin requesting execution dates until 150 days after any new protocols are developed. Currently, 15 Oklahoma Death Row inmates have exhausted all appeals and are awaiting scheduled execution dates.

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