OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) - Oklahoma cut a deal with three death row inmates to delay their executions into 2016 while officials investigate why the wrong drug was provided for the halted execution of Richard Glossip.
Glossip, James Coddington and Benjamin Cole sued the state in Oklahoma City Federal Court last year, claiming the 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.
Oklahoma changed its execution drug protocol after the botched execution of convicted 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.
A failed attempt to tap a vein in Lockett's groin resulted in blood gruesomely spraying the execution chamber. Blinds separating a viewing gallery and the chamber were lowered and Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton ordered the execution stopped. It took Lockett 43 minutes to finally die of a heart attack.
Several 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.
Glossip was most recently scheduled to die on Sept. 30, when Gov. Mary Fallin abruptly halted the execution with minutes to spare after prison officials discovered they had incorrectly received potassium acetate as the third drug in the state's three-drug execution protocol instead of potassium chloride. Attorney General Scott Pruitt immediately launched in an inquiry into the mishap.
In light of the investigation, Pruitt asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Oct. 1 to halt all pending executions. On Friday, the inmates' attorneys agreed to administratively end their lawsuit in exchange for the state putting off their executions into next year.
Pruitt said his office is conducting a "full and thorough investigation into all aspects" of prison officials' handling of the executions.
"My office does not plan to ask the court to set an execution date until the conclusion of its investigation," he said in a statement Friday. "This makes it unnecessary at this time to litigate the legal questions at issue in Glossip v. Gross."
Under the deal, the state agrees not to seek execution dates without informing the inmates of any conducted investigations and without providing notice that prison officials will be able to expressly comply with the execution protocol. Oklahoma also agreed not to seek execution dates until at least 150 days after the inmates are provided such information.
The inmates will then have 30 days after moving to reopen their lawsuit by filing a second amended complaint.
Glossip's attorney, federal public defender Dale A. Baich in Phoenix, said Friday he expects Pruitt's investigation "will take some time."
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