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Grand Jury Lashes Okla.|on Botched Execution

OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) - An Oklahoma grand jury declined to charge state officials for last year's botched execution of Charles Warner, but criticized them for being "careless" in using the wrong drugs and recommended that the state kill people with nitrogen gas.

In the report released Thursday evening, the multicounty grand jury called out officials from Gov. Mary Fallin's office down to members of the execution team.

"The Director of the Department of Corrections orally modified the execution protocol without authority," the 106-page report states. "The pharmacist ordered the wrong execution drugs, the department's general counsel failed to inventory the execution drugs as mandated by state purchasing requirements."

States have been forced to seek replacement execution drugs from compounding pharmacies after death penalty opponents persuaded large drug manufacturers to stop making the drugs. One week ago Pfizer, the last major source of execution drugs, announced that it would no longer supply drugs for executions.

Oklahoma used the wrong drugs in January 2015 to kill Warner, a child-killer. The state's execution protocol required potassium chloride to stop the heart, not the potassium acetate that was used.

Warner said his body was "on fire" and he twitched from his neck three minutes after the injection began, for seven minutes until he stopped breathing, witnesses said. He died after 18 minutes.

Warner's was the first execution after the grisly botched execution of Clayton Lockett in April 2014.

Witnesses said Lockett writhed in apparent agony, clenched his teeth and strained to lift his head after being injected with the replacement drugs. Prison officials tried to stop the execution at 20 minutes after running out of drugs.

Execution team members told state investigators that the execution chamber was a gruesome "bloody mess" due to attempts to tap a second femoral intravenous line in Lockett's groin.

Fallin stopped the execution of Richard Glossip eight months after Warner's execution, when it was discovered the wrong drugs were to be used again.

The grand jury report says that Fallin's former general counsel, Steve Mullins, recommended that Glossip be executed using potassium acetate. Mullins resigned in February.

The report cites a conversation Mullins had with Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Mullins to dissuade her from filing a motion to stay the execution.

"During this conversation, the governor's general counsel stated potassium chloride and potassium acetate were basically one in the same drug, advising Deputy Attorney General Miller to 'Google it,'" the report states.

"The governor's general counsel also told Deputy Attorney General Miller that filing a motion to stay would look bad for the State of Oklahoma because potassium acetate had already been used in Warner's execution."

To avoid such confusion, the report recommends the state hire experts to explore executions by nitrogen hypoxia. The grand jury heard testimony that such executions "would be humane" and that the components needed would be "easy and inexpensive" to get.

"The scientific research regarding nitrogen hypoxia has shown this method of execution would be quick and seemingly painless," the report states. "In addition to scientific research, Professor A explained that high-altitude pilots who train to recognize the symptoms of nitrogen hypoxia in airplane depressurizations do not report any feelings of suffocation, choking, or gagging. Doctor A testified that a person in a nitrogen-induced hypoxic state would lose consciousness quickly, and the heart would cease to beat within a few minutes. At present, however, no state has implemented the death penalty through nitrogen hypoxia, although it is an approved method of execution in Oklahoma."

The grand jury report was requested by Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who said, "This must never happen again."

"Today, I regret to advise the citizens of Oklahoma that the Department of Corrections failed to do its job," Pruitt said in a statement. "As is evident in the report from the multicounty grand jury, a number of individuals responsible for carrying out the execution process were careless, cavalier and in some circumstances dismissive of established procedures that were intended to guard against the very mistakes that occurred."

Pruitt said he will work with Fallin and the Legislature to study the nitrogen hypoxia recommendation.

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