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Thursday, May 30, 2024 | Back issues
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Error Prompts Execution Stays in Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) - One day after Oklahoma's abrupt halt of Richard Glossip's execution due to the discovery of incorrect drugs, the state has asked to indefinitely halt all executions until the mistake is straightened out.

Gov. Mary Fallin stayed Glossip's execution until Nov. 6 after prison officials received potassium acetate as the third drug in the state's three-drug execution protocol - potassium chloride is usually used.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt said Thursday he has launched an inquiry into the mishap.

"The state owes it to the people of Oklahoma to ensure that, on their behalf, it can properly and lawfully administer the sentence of death imposed by juries for the most heinous crimes," he said in a statement. "Not until shortly before the scheduled execution did the Department of Corrections notify my office that it did not obtain the necessary drugs to carry out the execution in accordance with the protocol. Until my office knows more about these circumstances and gains confidence that DOC can carry out executions in accordance with the execution protocol, I am asking the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to issue an indefinite stay of all scheduled executions."

Pruitt said he is "mindful" of the suffering of victim's families in the cases and his heart "breaks" for them.

"Yet they deserve to know, and all Oklahomans need to know with certainty, that the system is working as intended," he said.

Filed with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Thursday, the two-page request to stay all executions said time is needed to evaluate a drug being provided that was contrary to both protocol and prison officials' internal protocol procedures.

"The state has a strong interest in ensuring that the execution protocol is strictly followed," the filing said.

Pruitt is asking the court to halt Glossip's Nov. 6 execution, Benjamin Cole's Oct. 7 execution. Oklahoma's execution protocol is key because Glossip and three other death row inmates sued the state last year, claiming its use of midazolam - the first drug in a new three-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.

Lockett was declared unconscious after being injected with midazolam, but breathed heavily, writhed, clenched his teeth and strained to lift his head off a pillow three 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 and Oklahoma quickly rescheduled four executions, including Glossip's. The high court said the inmates failed "to identify a known and available alternative method of execution that entails a lesser risk of pain." When the high court denied Glossip a stay of execution Wednesday, Justice Stephen Breyer would have granted the stay.

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