Oklahoma

High court won’t rehear death penalty case


The Supreme Court refused Friday to reconsider the death-row appeals of 3 Oklahoma prisoners whose pending executions by lethal injection were upheld by the justices in June.
Without comment, the court denied a petition filed by the prisoners’ lawyers that would have turned the case into one testing the overall constitutionality of the death penalty.
The justices ruled 5-4 on June 29 that Oklahoma can use the sedative midazolam as part of a 3-drug lethal injection protocol, despite contentions that it may not render prisoners completely unconscious and incapable of feeling pain. The court’s majority said the inmates failed to suggest any better alternative.
But the decision included a sweeping dissent from Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg that questioned whether capital punishment is no longer constitutional. The 2 liberal justices cited scores of death-row exonerations, racial and geographic disparities, decades-long delays between sentencing and executions and a trend away from capital punishment in courts and states.
Breyer, who wrote the dissent, urged the court to hear a case in the near future on whether the death penalty violates the Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The court ruled that way in 1972, resulting in a 4-year moratorium on executions, but reversed itself in 1976.
“It would be appropriate for the court to use this case to address the constitutionality of the death penalty, because the outcome will turn not on facts specific to any single litigant, but on circumstances common to the administration of the death penalty,” attorneys for death-row inmates Richard Glossip, John Grant and Benjamin Cole said.
A similar effort was mounted in early July by Missouri prisoner David Zink, but the Supreme Court refused to delay his execution, and he was put to death July 14. Barring a last-minute reprieve, Glossip is scheduled to die Sept. 16, with Grant and Cole to follow later this year.
A more likely candidate for the Supreme Court to consider whether the death penalty is constitutional will come before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on Monday. In that case, a federal district judge already has declared California’s death penalty unconstitutional because of long delays, inadequate funding for defense lawyers, and the lack of a lethal injection protocol.
The June Supreme Court case concerned the specific drug used by Oklahoma and some other states to sedate prisoners before lethal drugs are administered. While Florida has used midazolam with apparent success, three executions in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma resulted in condemned prisoners gasping and writhing on their gurneys.
The high court’s 5-member conservative majority ruled that states may continue to uses midazolam because the defendants could not suggest an alternative – a burden that the court’s 4 liberal members criticized in a dissent written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Source: USA Today, August 28, 201

Oklahoma Governor Says She Can’t Stop Glossip’s Execution


Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin does not have the power to commute the death sentence of Richard Glossip, her office said in response to criticism by activist actress Susan Sarandon.
Glossip is scheduled to die on Sept. 16 for hiring a man to murder his employer, Bary Allan Van Treese, in 1997. Glossip has always maintained his innocence.
Sarandon, who has campaigned against the death penalty for years, called Fallin a “horrible person” for refusing to intervene.
“Richard’s case is so typical. Bad representation, 2 trials that were ridiculous, no physical evidence,” Sarandon told the British news group Sky News on Thursday.
“He’s put there by a snitch who actually did kill the person, and then the snitch has life and this guy is being put to death on the 16th. Once a mistake has been made within a judicial system, people just do not want to admit that mistake has been made and it becomes impossible to readdress them. And the only thing now that is going to give him a chance to survive is public opinion – is public embarrassment.” Sarandon urged people to write Fallin to stop the execution.
She called the Glossip case “a perfect example of what’s wrong with the death penalty, and so of course I’m hoping that some kind of exposure will give him the opportunity to maybe get his sentence at least commuted, because he’s clearly innocent, and on top of that the guy who actually killed the person is in a minimum security prison for the rest of his life.”
Fallin’s spokesman Alex Weintz responded to Sarandon and several media inquiries on Twitter, saying Fallin does not have the ability to grant Glossip clemency.
“The limit of her legal ability to intervene is to grant a 60 day stay,” Weintz tweeted Thursday. “The gov[ernor] can only grant clemency [to] inmates who have been recommended clemency by the Pardon and Parole Board. Glossip’s request was unanimously denied … To say Glossip has had his day in court is an understatement. He has been pursuing the same arguments publicly and in court for 20 years. He was convicted of murder in court twice and sentenced to death twice by 2 juries (24 total jurors unanimous in their verdict).”
Even if Fallin could grant clemency, doing so would “unilaterally overturn” the judgments of jurors and several courts, including the 10th Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court, Weintz said.
“Glossip’s execution is going forward because he is (a) guilty and (b) has exhausted his legal options,” he said. “Final thought: there are multiple victims here, none of them Glossip. A man beaten to death, wife without a husband, 5 kids with no dad.”
Susan Sarandon
Susan Sarandon
Sarandon won an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1995 for her portrayal of anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean in “Dead Man Walking.” Prejean also has called for Glossip’s exoneration.
Glossip and 3 other death row inmates sued Oklahoma last year, claiming its use of midazolam – the 1st drug in a new 3-drug replacement protocol – fails to render a person insensate to pain, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
States have been forced to seek replacement execution drugs from compounding pharmacies after anti-death penalty opponents persuaded large drug manufacturers to stop making lethal injection drugs. Oklahoma’s previous protocol required pentobarbital to knock the inmate unconscious, vecuronium to stop breathing and potassium chloride to stop the heart.
Glossip’s lawsuit was filed after the botched execution of murderer Clayton Lockett, 38, in April 2014. He was declared unconscious after being injected with midazolam, but breathed heavily, writhed, clenched his teeth and strained to lift his head off a pillow 3 minutes later. Blinds separating a viewing gallery and the death chamber were lowered and Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton ordered the execution stopped. It took Lockett 43 minutes to die of a heart attack.
In a 5-4 ruling on June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the new execution protocol. Oklahoma quickly rescheduled four executions. The Supreme Court said the inmates failed “to identify a known and available alternative method of execution that entails a lesser risk of pain.”
Source: Courthouse News, August 8, 2015

 

USA: Many Basic Facts About Executions Remain Secret – Until Something Goes Wrong


June 24, 2015

As Oklahoma’s death-row inmates await word on whether the state’s execution procedure is constitutional, states – including Oklahoma – maintain strong laws protecting disclosure of information about the way they implement the death penalty.
Last year, an Oklahoma inmate sat on a gurney for 43 minutes while the drugs that were supposed to course swiftly through his body and kill him failed to do so.
Any day now, the Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision in a case on whether Oklahoma’s death penalty protocol is constitutional, a case filed in the aftermath of that botched execution, many of the details of which still remain shrouded in secrecy. How the Supreme Court will decide – how narrowly or broadly or whether they will issue an opinion at all – is unknown.
One thing is clear, however, in Oklahoma and elsewhere: The way people are executed in America is increasingly done in secret.
The identities of the actual executioners have been secret for a long time. But in recent years, states have extended that same secrecy to the very drugs used to kill people – where they’re purchased, how they’re purchased, and how they’re prepared and administered.
Death penalty lawyers argue the secrecy means they don’t find out about many of the problems until something goes wrong. But even in those cases, investigations are done by the state itself, shielding an unknown amount of that information – beyond what the state releases – from public disclosure.
Lockett’s execution took place more than a year ago, yet reporters in Oklahoma are still waiting for Gov. Mary Fallin’s office to turn over emails and records from that night. Eventually Ziva Branstetter, a journalist now with the Tulsa Frontier, had little choice but to sue for the documents in December of last year.
Fallin has attempted to delay the suit – arguing that, although her office hasn’t turned over the records, she hasn’t formally denied the request either. Fallin’s office claimed in court that absent a formal denial, the courts couldn’t weigh in.
The response from Fallin isn’t an anomaly, either. Her office has stopped responding to emails about a BuzzFeed News open records request from months ago.
In a statement, a Fallin spokesperson said the governor was committed to transparency.
“It is an extremely time-consuming process,” Alex Weintz said. “And, since our office gets many Open Records requests, it can take a while to receive documents in response to a request.”
The situation in Oklahoma isn’t unusual.
“Departments of Corrections have realized that the more information they provide, the more it reveals how little they know,” said Deborah Denno, a law professor who has followed the death penalty for decades.
“It’s always been there, but now it’s becoming more pronounced. The only time we really find out what’s going on is when something goes wrong and we have a really badly botched execution.”
The secrecy has also provided cover when things go wrong. That’s how it has played out in Georgia after state officials had to halt an impending execution after finding particles floating in the syringe.
Georgia officials said the state would put its executions on hold while it investigated what went wrong. Attorney Gerald “Bo” King, who represents the woman on death row, worried that the “self-investigation” would be biased.
“[The state] will not be merely the subject of this investigation; they will also conduct it,” King wrote in March. “And they will hide all critical aspects of their self-assessment from Ms. Gissendaner, the public, and this court.”
Those concerns have been borne out in the time since. After a short investigation, Georgia told the courts, the press, and the public that the likeliest cause of the drug’s issues is that it was stored at too low of a temperature. But state officials did not publicize the fact that the expert consulted by the state also pointed to a 2nd possible cause – problems with how the drug was made. The state then withheld the results of a test that could support or cast doubt on that assessment, refusing to turn those results over to BuzzFeed News in an open records request.
“After reflection,” – and a BuzzFeed News report detailing how the state was withholding the results – the state changed its mind and released them. The results cast doubt on their assessment that it was temperature, and not a problem with the secret pharmacist that mixed the drug, that caused the drug to go bad.
The lethal injection problems have not appeared to change the minds of those who have supported the secrecy.
“Georgia did the right thing, they didn’t use the drug. It’s not a problem,” said Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, an organization that works to support the death penalty. “Oklahoma – they did have one case where the insertion wasn’t done correctly. But they’ve taken steps to fix it.”
Scheidegger and other supporters argue that the secrecy is vital. Without it, he says, people wouldn’t be willing to participate in executions or sell lethal drugs.
“I cannot think of another instance where companies would face the same criticism for participating in a government function,” Scheidegger said.
Military companies aren’t shielded from public scrutiny, and the amounts the government pays those companies are a matter of public record. When asked why this should be different, Scheidegger said, “I lived through Vietnam era and I don’t remember them doing this with military contractors.”
“As long as the drug is tested, it shouldn’t matter where it comes from,” he added.
It’s the argument that almost all other states have made when the secrecy has been challenged.
In fact, these days, Nebraska seems to be the only state fine with turning over records that illustrate how its lethal drugs are procured, even if the Food and Drug Administration has said those drugs are illegal and will be seized.
Nebraska’s lethal injection drugs are purchased from a supplier in India.

 

Oklahoma Postpones Execution After First Is Botched- Clayton Lockett, stay for Warner


April 29, 2014

McALESTER, Okla. — What was supposed to be the first of two executions here Tuesday night was halted when the prisoner, Clayton D. Lockett, began to twitch and gasp after he had already been declared unconscious and called out “man” and “something’s wrong,” according to witnesses.

The administering doctor intervened and discovered that “the line had blown,” said the director of corrections, Robert Patton, meaning that drugs were no longer flowing into his vein.

At 7:06 p.m., Mr. Patton said, Mr. Lockett died of a heart attack.

Mr. Patton said he had requested a stay of 14 days in the second execution scheduled for Tuesday night, of Charles F. Warner.

It was a chaotic and disastrous step in Oklahoma’s long effort to execute the two men, overcoming their objections that the state would not disclose the source of the drugs being used in a newly tried combination.

  It did not appear that any of the drugs themselves failed, but rather the method of administration, but it resulted in what witnesses called an agonizing scene.

“This was botched, and it was difficult to watch,” said David Autry, one of Mr. Lockett’s lawyers.

A doctor started to administer the first drug, a sedative intended to knock the man out, at 6:23. Ten minutes later, the doctor said that Mr. Lockett was unconscious, and started to administer the next two drugs, a paralytic and one intended to make the heart stop.

At that point, witnesses said, things began to go awry. Mr. Lockett’s body moved, his foot shook, and he mumbled, witnesses said. 

At 6 :37, he tried to rise and exhaled loudly. At that point, prison officials pulled a curtain in front of the witnesses and the doctor discovered a “vein failure,” Mr. Patton said.

The appeals for disclosure about the drug sources, supported by a state court in March, threw Oklahoma’s highest courts and elected officials into weeks of conflict and disarray, with courts arguing over which should consider the request for a politically unpopular stay of execution, the governor defying the State Supreme Court’s ruling for a delay, and a legislator seeking impeachment of the justices.

The planned executions of Mr. Lockett, 38, and Mr. Warner, 46, dramatized the growing tension nationally over secrecy in lethal injections as drug companies, saying they are fearful of political and even physical attack, refuse to supply drugs, and many states scramble to find new sources and try untested combinations. Several states have imposed secrecy on the suppliers of lethal injection drugs, leading to court battles over due process and the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Lawyers for the two convicts said the lack of supplier information made it impossible to know if the drugs were safe and effective, or might possibly violate the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Officials swore that the drugs were obtained legally from licensed pharmacies, and had not expired. Gov. Mary Fallin, expressing the sentiment of many here, said: “Two men that do not contest their guilt in heinous murders will now face justice.”

But that question was overshadowed by Tuesday night’s disastrous mishap, which is certain to generate more challenges to lethal injection, long considered the most humane of execution methods.

 Mr. Lockett was convicted of shooting a 19-year-old woman in 1999 and having her buried alive. Mr. Warner, condemned for the rape and murder of an 11-month-old girl in 1997, was to be executed two hours later. .

The two men spent Tuesday in adjacent cells, visited by their lawyers and, in Mr. Warner’s case, family members. The hulking white penitentiary here in a small town of southeast Oklahoma, amid prairies now green from soaking spring rains, is the prison from which Tom Joad is paroled in the opening pages of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”

In keeping with the untried drug protocol announced by the Corrections Department this month, Mr. Lockett was first injected with midazolam, a benzodiazepine intended to render the prisoner unconscious and unable to feel pain. This was followed by injections of vecuronium bromide, a paralyzing agent that stops breathing, and then potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

This combination has been used in Florida, but with a much higher dose of midazolam than Oklahoma is planning to use. Without effective sedation, the second two drugs are known to cause agonizing suffocation and pain.

Oklahoma and other states have turned to compounding pharmacies — lightly regulated laboratories that mix up drugs to order. Opponents have raised questions about quality control, especially after the widely reported dying gasps of a convict in Ohio for more than 10 minutes, and an Oklahoma inmate’s utterance, “I feel my whole body burning,” after being injected with compounded drugs.

Mr. Lockett and Mr. Warner were scheduled to be executed in March, but officials said they had been unable to buy the drugs, and the executions were delayed. Oklahoma later said it had found a federally approved manufacturer to provide the drugs, but refused to identify it.

Oklahoma’s attorney general, Scott Pruitt, derided the lawsuits over drug secrecy, calling them delaying tactics. Many legal experts, especially death penalty opponents, say otherwise.

“Information on the drug that is intended to act as the anesthetic is crucial to ensure that the execution will be humane,” said Jennifer Moreno, a lawyer with the Berkeley Law School’s Death Penalty Clinic.

Elsewhere, Texas has refused to reveal where it obtained a new batch of compounded drugs; a challenge is before the State Supreme Court. Georgia passed a law last year making information about lethal drug suppliers a “confidential state secret”; a challenge is also pending in that state’s top court.

This month, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear suits attacking drug secrecy in Missouri and Louisiana.

But three of the justices expressed interest and the issue seems likely to be considered by the Supreme Court at some point, said Eric M. Freedman, a professor of constitutional law at Hofstra University who considers the secrecy a violation of due process.

In March, it appeared that Mr. Lockett and Mr. Warner had won the right to know more about the drugs when an Oklahoma judge ruled that the secrecy law was unconstitutional. But the judge said she did not have the authority to grant the men stays of execution, sending the inmates into a Kafkaesque legal maze.

The state has an unusual court system, sending criminal appeals to a top criminal court and civil matters to its Supreme Court. The Court of Criminal Appeals repeatedly turned back the Supreme Court’s order to rule on a stay, while the attorney general insisted that the executions would go ahead.

Last Monday, the Supreme Court said that to avoid a miscarriage of justice, it would delay the executions until it had time to resolve the secrecy matter.

The next day, Governor Fallin, a Republican, said the Supreme Court had overstepped its powers, and directed officials to carry out both executions on April 29. An outraged legislator, Representative Mike Christian, said he would seek to impeach the justices, who were already under fire from conservative legislators for striking down laws the court deemed unconstitutional.

A constitutional crisis appeared to be brewing. But last Wednesday, the Supreme Court announced a decision on the secrecy issue — overturning the lower court and declaring that the executions could proceed.

Oklahoma executions back on, as court rules to keep lethal-drug sources secret


April 25, 2014

CNN) — Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner’s executions are back on the schedule for next week after Oklahoma’s high court lifted their stays, saying they had no right to know the source of the drugs that will be used to kill them.

The inmates, who are being held at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, where they are slated to be executed by lethal injection Tuesday, had challenged the state’s so-called secrecy provision, which forbids disclosing the identities of anyone involved in the execution process or suppliers of any drugs or medical equipment.

Lockett and Warner also challenged the state Department of Corrections’ failure to divulge which drugs would be used, but the department disclosed what drugs it intended to use before the high court’s decision: midazolam, which causes unconsciousness, along with pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride, which shut down breathing and the heart.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court said the only remaining issue, then, is whether the state’s failure to disclose its source for the drugs prevents the prisoners from challenging their executions using the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The court decided it did not.

“This court holds that the secrecy provision … does not violate the inmates’ constitutional right of access to the courts,” the Wednesday ruling said.

Attorney Seth Day, who represents both men, called the ruling unacceptable and told CNN affiliate KFOR that there was no way to know if the prisoners’ executions “would be carried out in a constitutional and humane manner.”

“It’s not even known whether the lethal injection drugs to be used were obtained legally, and nothing is known about their source, purity, or efficacy, among other questions,” he told the station. “Oklahoma’s extreme secrecy surrounding lethal injection undermines our courts and democracy.”

Attorney General Scott Pruitt applauded the decision, saying the state had a longstanding precedent of keeping the drug sources secret to avoid “schemes and intimidation used by defense counsel and other anti-death-penalty groups.”

“These death row inmates have not contested their guilt for murdering two innocent victims nor have they contested their sentences of death. The legal wrangling of the attorneys for Lockett and Warner has served only to delay their punishment for the heinous crimes they committed,” he told KFOR.

Lockett was convicted in 2000 of a bevy of crimes, including first-degree murder, first-degree rape, kidnapping and robbery in a 1999 home invasion and crime spree that left Stephanie Nieman dead and two people injured. In 2003, Warner was convicted for the 1997 first-degree rape and murder of his then-girlfriend’s 11-month-old daughter, Adrianna Waller.

The constitutionality of lethal injection drugs and drug cocktails has made headlines since last year, when European manufacturers — including Denmark-based Lundbeck, which manufactures pentobarbital — banned U.S. prisons from using their drugs in executions. Thirty-two states were left to find new drug protocols.

“The states are scrambling to find the drugs,” Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, said in November. “They want to carry out these executions that they have scheduled, but they don’t have the drugs and they’re changing and trying new procedures never used before in the history of executions.”

If Lockett and Warner are executed next week, they would be the 194th and 195th inmates Oklahoma has executed since 1915.

Oklahoma governor says executions to proceed despite court-ordered stays


April 23, 2014

A day after the Oklahoma supreme court issued a stay of execution for two convicted killers, the governor issued her own order on Tuesday that the state would carry out their sentences next week, setting up a possible legal confrontation over constitutional powers.

Republican governor Mary Fallin said the state supreme court acted “outside the constitutional authority” of its mandate in staying Clayton Lockett’s execution. She granted a stay of seven days for Lockett, escheduling his execution for 29 April, the same day condemned inmate Charles Warner is scheduled to be executed. But legal experts said the supreme court’s stays must be followed and the governor lacks the power to reset the date.

“Governor Fallin is a politician, and not a lawyer,” said Randall Coyne, a constitutional law expert at the University of Oklahoma. “According to well established precedent of the US supreme court, the courts – not executive officials – have the final word on what is constitutional. She of course has the right to disagree with judicial decisions, but they remain the law. The governor is dangerously close to precipitating a constitutional crisis.”

The day before Lockett’s planned execution, the Oklahoma supreme court on Monday indefinitely delayed his and Warner’s executions while they challenge the constitutionality of a law that keeps secret the source of the state’s execution drugs. The state’s highest court stepped in after two weeks of legal tussles in which it and the court of criminal appeals both said they did not have the authority to grant a stay.

On Tuesday, the office of the attorney general, Scott Pruitt, asked the state supreme court to rehear the case, arguing the court had caused chaos for the bifurcated appeals system of the state. The supreme court denied that petition 6 to 3 on Tuesday, essentially rejecting Pruitt’s questioning of the court’s jurisdiction.

Fallin then stepped in with an executive order, telling Pruitt’s office to file papers with the Oklahoma court of criminal appeals that would give her a blueprint as to how to implement the execution order.

And separately, the Associated Press reported that a member of the Oklahoma House drafted a resolution on Wednesday seeking the impeachment of state supreme court justices who granted the delay.

Republican state representative Mike Christian told The Associated Press that the five justices engaged in a “willful neglect of duty” when they granted stays of execution. An impeachment effort would have no impact on the current proceedings

“This is a case of our state’s judges inserting their personal biases and political opinions into the equation,” Christian told the Associated Press.

Eric M Freedman, a constitutional law expert at Hofstra University, said Fallin’s order is “pure political posturing”.

“The probability that the state will succeed in carrying out the executions in defiance of the stays entered by the Oklahoma supreme court hovers between zilch and zero,” he said.

Lockett and Warner challenged the constitutionality of an Oklahoma law that keeps the source of execution drugs secret. An Oklahoma county district court judge ruled in their favor in March, and judge Patricia Parrish said the statute violated their right to due process. Lawyers for Lockett and Warner say it would be “unthinkable” to carry out the executions while that challenge is unresolved.

Oklahoma attorney Stephen Jones, a Republican who served as counsel to Republican governors, said Tuesday’s developments were about politics, and Fallin has made a power grab of the state judiciary.

“It gives them something to campaign upon,” Jones said.

He said executing the men despite the court’s stay would create a “nasty confrontation” that the governor and attorney general would legally lose.

“She should have stayed out of it and let the courts work it out. She doesn’t really have a dog in the fight. Frankly I think it’s a sign of weakness on the part of the attorney general that he got the governor to do that. Scott Pruitt has not practiced much as a lawyer,” Jones added.

Brady R Henderson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said the governor can delay an execution, but her resetting of the execution date is unlikely to hold up legally.

“The Oklahoma constitution simply does not give her the power to do that,” Henderson said.

“It is important to remember that the entire matter comes from a relatively simple request from two condemned men to find out about the drugs that would be used to kill them,” he said. “There are serious concerns about the conduct of the lethal injection process, and an Oklahoma law attempts to bar the inmates and everybody else from finding out important information about the process. In other words, it puts a veil of secrecy over one of the most grave functions of state government – killing its own citizens.”

Oklahoma to proceed with lethal injection amid confusion within courts – Clayton Lockett


April 21, 2014

Execution of Clayton Lockett to go ahead after judges in disagreement over which court has the power to grant a stay

Oklahoma plans to kill Clayton Lockett by lethal injection on Tuesday, after judges could not agree which court has the authority to stay his execution amid questions over the constitutionality of the state’s capital punishment law.

The Oklahoma court of criminal appeals and the state supreme court last week both declined to stay the executions of Lockett and Charles Warner, scheduled for April 29, with each court saying it did not have the authority to grant a stay.

The inmates have sued over the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s secrecy about execution drugs, and an Oklahoma county district court judge has ruled that keeping the source of the drugs confidential is a violation of their rights. The state is defending a law that allows it to keep the source of the drugs secret, on the argument that suppliers would be in danger if their identities were made public.

Lockett, 38, was convicted of killing a 19-year-old woman in 1999. He was also convicted of rape. Warner, 46, was convicted of raping and killing an 11-month-old baby in 1997.

The Oklahoma county district judge ruled in March that the secrecy surrounding the drug source violated the inmates’ right to access the courts. The state appealed that ruling on Friday to the state supreme court calling the ruling an “overbroad interpretation” of the right to access.

The inmates’ lawyers, Susanna Gattoni and Seth Day, said in a statement it would be “unthinkable” to execute them before the state supreme court considers the constitutional issues.

“The extreme secrecy surrounding lethal injection in Oklahoma makes it impossible to know whether executions would be carried out in a humane and legal manner,” the lawyers said. The lawyers appealed again Monday to the state supreme court.

The state has said Lockett and Warner will die, and that the question is how and when.

“The citizens should not see their criminal justice system derailed and subverted by criminal defendants who have completely exhausted the entire range of appeals and processes required by the US and Oklahoma constitutions due to baseless speculation of theoretical harms raised in improper venues,” the state said in a filing.

The state supreme court said it did not have the authority to stay the executions and transferred the matter to the criminal appeals court. But the criminal appeals court said it did not have the authority to grant a stay.

In transferring the case to the criminal appeals court, the state supreme court urged the judges to consider the “gravity of the first impression constitutional issues this court will be charged with in addressing” the appeals.

The appeals present claims, “which if resolved in the prisoners’ favor, might well support alterations in the execution process,” the court said in transferring the stay.

At the criminal appeals court, judge Clancy Smith dissented from her colleagues, saying: “I would grant a stay to avoid irreparable harm as the appellants face imminent execution. I would do so in consideration of the appellants’ rights, to avoid the possibility of a miscarriage of justice, and in comity with the supreme courts’ request for time to resolve the issues pending before it.”

The state plans to use an untried dose of midazolam in a three-drug lethal injection method to kill Lockett and Warner.

Unable to find the drugs it needed to kill the men, the state changed its protocol in March to allow five lethal injection methods. The state can use four three-drug combinations, or a single dose of pentobarbital.

The state has typically fought legal battles when it wanted to revise the lethal injection method, according to a document the corrections department wrote to update the state board of corrections in 2012.

“As noted, Oklahoma has been required to litigate every change in the lethal injection protocol and anticipates future litigation for each new change,” the document states.

Lockett’s execution is scheduled for 6pm local time on Tuesday, at the Oklahoma state penitentiary in McAlester. His will be the state’s third execution in 2014.

 

theguardian.com)

Oklahoma Justices Send Execution Case To Lower Court


April 18, 2014

Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner have sued the state seeking more information about the drugs that would be used to kill them.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court says it is not the place for death-row inmates to go if they want a stay of execution.

Justices said Thursday that the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals should take up stay requests from 2 inmates scheduled to die in the next 2 weeks. The appeals court had said previously it didn’t have the authority because the inmates hadn’t met all technical requirements under the law.

Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner have sued the state seeking more information about the drugs that would be used to kill them. They say they need stays of execution so they can continue their challenge.

The justices wrote that the Court of Criminal Appeals erred in not taking up the request.

Death penalty abolitionists and others who seek to end the death penalty will protest the executions of two death-row inmates on the days of their executions.

The Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty will host “Don’t Kill for Me” demonstrations at the governor’s mansion followed by silent vigils on Tuesday for death-row inmate Clayton Lockett and on April 29 for Charles Warner.

The inmates have been in a legal battle with the state over the secrecy surrounding which drugs are used in executions and their origins. The executions are still scheduled to take place, despite pending litigation in the case.

Lockett was found guilty of the 1999 shooting death of a 19-year-old woman, Stephanie Nieman. Warner was convicted for the 1997 death of his roommate’s 11-month-old daughter.

(source: Associated Press)

Oklahoma says it has obtained secret supply of execution drugs


April 12, 2013

Oklahoma officials on Friday said the state had obtained manufactured pharmaceuticals from a secret supplier for use in the executions of two men later this month, avoiding concerns over the use of compounded drugs but leaving unanswered questions about how it obtained them.

In a letter to defence lawyers, an assistant attorney general, John Hadden, said the state “has recently acquired a manufactured source of vecuronium bromide. That means there will be no compounded drugs used in the executions of your clients. This will resolve the concerns you and your clients have expressed regarding compounded drugs.”

Despite a judge’s ruling that a state drug secrecy law violated the inmates’ constitutional rights, Hadden declined to identify the supplier of the new drugs.

“This information is irrelevant to your clients and disclosure could lead to harassment or intimidation which will have a chilling effect on the state’s ability to acquire these drugs for future executions,” Hadden wrote.

Oklahoma plans to execute Clayton Lockett on 22 April and Charles Warner on 29 April. Both were convicted of murder and rape.

The state said on Friday it would use midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride to kill the men, with dosages untried in US executions. Florida uses the same combination of drugs, but employs a dosage of midazolam, which acts as a sedative, that is five times larger than what Oklahoma plans to use. Vecuronium bromide is a paralytic agent; potassium chloride stops the heart.

Oklahoma had planned to use a different drug – compounded pancuronium bromide – as the second drug in the method, but lawyers objected to the use of loosely regulated compounded drugs that may lack purity and cause an unconstitutionally cruel death.

Hadden said the state will now use drugs that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Madeline Cohen, a lawyer for one of the men due to be executed, said the state needs to reveal details beyond that the pharmaceuticals were manufactured rather than compounded.

“If they disclosed that the drugs were manufactured by a specific company, in a particular lot, and imported with this licence, for example, we would have some ability to evaluate that,” she said.

“Without that, we don’t know if it’s actually an FDA-approved drug or if it has been imported or sold legally, or if it is what the state says it is.”

She said there is no FDA-approved midazolam that comes in the concentration specified in Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol, and the state has not said if it will dilute the drug to make the concentration.

The state could change the concentrations in the protocol, if any numbers were incorrectly written, Hadden said in his letter.

 

(the guardian)

Oklahoma delays 2 executions because of drug shortage


march 18, 2014

Oklahoma delays 2 executions because of drug shortage

An appeals court in Oklahoma on Tuesday postponed the execution of a convicted murderer slated for Thursday because the state has run out of lethal injection drugs. A second prisoner’s death sentence slated for next week was also delayed.

The case is the latest in a growing controversy nationwide over the use of lethal injection for executions. Sources for the necessary drugs have dried up, and states with death penalties are scrambling to find more.

The state attorney general’s office conceded in court documents Monday that state executioners have run out of pentobarbital, a necessary barbiturate used in the execution process. The state lawyers may have to find another combination of drugs to carry out the executions.

Four members of the five-judge appellate panel on Tuesday ordered that both executions be delayed.

(Source: USA Today)