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Judge Lets Oklahoma Resume Executions

OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) - Oklahoma's new execution protocol is not cruel or unusual and the state can resume executions as soon as next month, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot on Monday denied a motion for preliminary injunction from four Oklahoma death row inmates scheduled to die between January and March of 2015.

Friot found that the inmates "failed to establish any prerequisites" for the granting of an injunction, even under a "relaxed standard."

"The court concludes that the movants have failed to establish a probability of success on the merits of any of the five claims they assert for preliminary injunction purposes," the order states. "The court further concludes that movants have failed to demonstrate that, absent a preliminary injunction, they would suffer any non-speculative irreparable harm. The court further concludes that the balance of equities does not tip in movants' favor."

Halting the executions would "not be in the public interest," Friot wrote.

The inmates claim the use of replacement execution drugs is unconstitutional, citing the pain that Clayton Lockett endured during his botched execution in April that was described as a gruesome " bloody mess ."

Lockett was declared unconscious after being injected with midazolam in the state's new three-drug combination. Three minutes later, Lockett began breathing heavily, writhing, clenched his teeth and strained to lift his head off of a pillow, in apparent agony. Blinds separating a viewing gallery were then lowered and Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton halted the execution 20 minutes later. Lockett died from a heart attack soon after.

Several states have been forced to use replacement execution drugs due to shortages of traditional execution drugs caused by anti-death penalty activists successfully asking large drug manufacturers to stop making them.

An investigation ordered by Gov. Mary Fallin concluded in September that an intravenous line in Lockett's groin was placed improperly and covered with a sheet, resulting in the drugs pooling in his tissue instead of his bloodstream. Investigators recommended a fivefold increase in the amount of midazolam injected and more monitoring safeguards regarding injection sites on an inmate's body.

The inmates appealed Friot's ruling to the 10th Circuit on Tuesday.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Dale Baich in Phoenix said the use of midazolam in executions has been a concern for anesthesiologists and other medical experts.

"Our primary concern is the use of midazolam, a drug that is inappropriate for use in executions because it does not relieve pain and does not maintain prisoners at an adequate level of anesthesia," Baich said in a statement Monday. "And because Oklahoma plans to paralyze condemned prisoners after giving them midazolam, it is likely we often will not know if the prisoners were medically and constitutionally anesthetized or if they suffered."

Immediately after Friot's ruling, Director Patton announced that Warner will be executed on Jan. 15, 2015. Warner was originally scheduled to die hours after Lockett.

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