Oklahoma, the state that invented lethal injection, continues to be plagued by the implementation of the death penalty. A nationwide shortage of one of the drugs used in the state's death penalty protocol first led to a substitution of the drug. Then, when executions in other states led to apparently painful and inhumane deaths, inmates began filing lawsuits in relation to the use of the drug in the execution protocol and the state's unwillingness to reveal the source of the compounding pharmacies providing it. Pending the resolution of the lawsuits, lethal injection was put on hold in Oklahoma.
Eventually, the suing inmates lost their lawsuits, and executions were allowed to proceed using a combination of midazolam, vercuronium bromide, and potassium chloride. Then came the execution of Clayton Lockett, the first Oklahoma inmate to be put to death using this new protocol.
Lockett's execution was a fiasco. He blew a vein during the injection of the drugs. Fourteen minutes after being declared unconscious, he attempted to rise from the execution table. He writhed and convulsed before the Department of Corrections put a halt to his execution. Forty-three minutes after the execution began, Lockett died of a heart attack.
Since then, Oklahoma's problems have continued. Another execution was halted at the eleventh hour when an official realized that the state had the wrong drug. As officials prepared for the execution of Richard Glossip, they discovered that the supply of lethal injection drugs included potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride. Further investigation revealed that the wrong drug had been used in the execution of Charles Warner, who complained that his body was "on fire" during his execution.
Oklahoma can't obtain the right drug cocktail for lethal injection. They have difficulty placing the IV. But instead of seeing the writing on the wall for the Oklahoma death penalty, the state is seeking to circumvent lethal injection.
In March, the state revealed that it plans to replace execution by lethal injection with execution by nitrogen hypoxia or nitrogen asphyxiation--in other words, using nitrogen gas to suffocate condemned inmates.
Critics say this method is experimental. According to an attorney for the 20 death row inmates who previously filed suit against the state, "This method has never been used before and is experimental. Oklahoma is once again asking us to trust it as officials 'learn-on-the-job,' through a new execution procedure and method. How can we trust Oklahoma to get this right when the state's recent history reveals a culture of carelessness and mistakes in executions?"
At the time of the announcement that the state would adopt nitrogen hypoxia as its execution protocol, Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Joe M. Allbaugh stated during a news conference with Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter in March, "I'm hoping to have something of a preliminary fashion in the next 90 to 120 days." Now that 120 days have come and gone, Oklahomans are looking for answers. However, the Department of Corrections denies any such deadline, saying that the projection of 3-4 months was merely a speculation, not a set-in-stone date to have something done. The DOC released the following statement after interview requests from several media outlets:
Our agency has been deluged by questions from reporters about the supposed existence of a "deadline" in July for developing the state's death penalty protocol for nitrogen hypoxia.
To be clear, ODOC Director Joe M. Allbaugh stated during a news conference with Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter in March, "I'm hoping to have something of a preliminary fashion in the next 90 to 120 days."
At no point in the press conference nor since then has ODOC discussed or set any deadline.
As we have said multiple times - we continue to work with the Attorney General's Office on developing a protocol that provides for an effective and humane method of execution.
Such work is important and detailed; and its results must stand up in court.
We reserve the right to develop a protocol that is befitting for this state - and not the news media's schedule.
For more information on this statement, please contact Matt Elliott, ODOC spokesperson.
In the meantime, the state's death row inmates remain in limbo, not knowing if, when, or how executions will be carried out in Oklahoma.