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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, February 29, 2024 | Back issues
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Oklahoma Used Wrong|Drug to Kill Man

OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) - Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin expressed frustration and doubt about the future of executions in her state after the disclosure that an incorrect drug was used to kill child-killer Charles Warner.

The Oklahoman reported on Oct. 8 that bottles labeled potassium acetate were incorrectly used in the state's three-drug cocktail to kill Warner in January. The state's execution protocol requires that potassium chloride be used third to stop the heart.

Warner showed no obvious signs of distress as the first drug was administered, but said, " My body is on fire ."

Witnesses said Warner twitched from his neck 3 minutes after the injection began, lasting for seven minutes until he stopped breathing. He died after 18 minutes.

The incorrect third drug was provided to prison officials again for the Sept. 30 execution of Richard Glossip. The error was discovered before the execution, and Fallin stayed the execution with minutes to spare. Attorney General Scott Pruitt investigated and quickly asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to halt three pending executions .

"During the discussion of the delay of the execution, it became apparent that Department of Corrections may have used potassium acetate in the execution of Charles Warner in January of this year," Fallin said at an Oct. 8 news conference. "I was not aware, nor was anyone in my office aware of the possibility, until the day of Richard Glossip's scheduled execution."

Fallin said the pharmacy that provided the potassium acetate assured prison officials that it is medically interchangeable with the approved potassium chloride. But she sided with Pruitt's request to stop executions until his investigation is complete.

"The attorney general, the Department of Corrections and my office will work cooperatively to address these issues," Fallin said. "Until we have complete confidence in the system, we will delay any further executions."

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.

Warner unsuccessfully argued in Federal Court that the state's replacement three-drug execution protocol would subject him to unconstitutional pain and suffering.

Oklahoma officials updated the execution protocol in September 2014, greatly increasing the dose of midazolam. The change came after Fallin ordered an investigation of the 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 execution 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.

Glossip's attorney, federal defender Dale Baich, blasted the latest revelations, saying Oklahoma cannot be trusted to "get it right" or be truthful.

"The state's disclosure that it used potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride during the execution of Charles Warner yet again raises serious questions about the ability of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections to carry out executions," Baich said. "The execution logs for Charles Warner say that he was administered potassium chloride, but now the state says potassium acetate was used."

The execution logs state Warner was given drugs from syringes labeled potassium chloride, according to media reports. This contradicts the autopsy report, which indicates the syringes contained potassium acetate.

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