Oklahoma high court stays executions over lethal injection drug challenge

[JURIST] The Oklahoma Supreme Court [official website] on Monday stayed the execution of two death row prisoners who have challenged the legality of the state's lethal injection drugs. The stay comes just one day before [AP report] one of the inmates, Clayton Lockett, was to be executed and one week before Charles Warner was scheduled to die. A joint request for a stay of execution [AP report] filed by the inmates' lawyers on Monday, the latest of a series of appeals [NYT report], stated that the men "have received no certifications, testing data, medical opinions or other evidence to support the state's insistence that these drugs are safe, or to prove that they were acquired legally." The combination of drugs that the state planned to use for the execution, a combination of midazolam, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride, has been used for executions in Florida, but the dosage of midazolam in Oklahoma's protocols is significantly lower. This lower dosage of the sedative increases the risk that the inmate will stay conscious [Guardian report] for the remaining injections, feeling the effects of the second and third drugs during an unnecessarily slow and painful execution. Although Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt [official website] has expressed his disapproval of the decision, calling the appeals a ploy to delay the execution, legal experts say that the men have a strong case following the decision of an Oklahoma state district court last month in which the court agreed that inmates have a right to question the constitutionality of the drugs they are to be executed with.

The shortage of commonly used lethal injection [JURIST news archive] drugs in the US has forced a number of states to modify their execution drug protocols. Earlier this month the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] overturned [JURIST report] a ruling from the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas that had required the Texas Department of Criminal Justice [official websites] to provide information about the supplier of lethal injection drugs. In March the Oklahoma County District Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that the state's law preventing death row inmates from obtaining information about the drugs used in lethal injections violates the Oklahoma constitution. Also in March the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that the executions of two inmates scheduled for March 20 and March 27 must be delayed for at least a month so that the state may have additional time to either procure the appropriate execution drugs or to alter the state's execution protocol. In February Judge Terence Kern of the US District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma [official website] issued [JURIST report] a temporary restraining order on The Apothecary Shoppe in Tulsa to stop the pharmacy from providing an execution drug to the Missouri Department of Corrections for an upcoming lethal injection.

 

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