Death Penalty

Oklahoma will resume executions after 5-year moratorium

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Corridor in an abandoned penitentiary. Image from

Oklahoma plans to resume lethal injections following a five-year moratorium spurred by botched executions.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, said at a news conference Thursday that the state was resuming lethal injections after finding a reliable supply for its three-drug cocktail, report the Oklahoman, the Tulsa World and the New York Times.

“I believe capital punishment is appropriate for the most heinous of crimes, and it is our duty as state officials to obey the laws of the state of Oklahoma by carrying out this somber task,” Stitt said.

The drugs that will be used are midazolam, a short-acting sedative; vecuronium bromide, which stops breathing; and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. Additional safeguards have been added, including a process to verify the drugs.

An autopsy conducted on inmate Charles Frederick Warner, executed in January 2015, suggested that he may have received the wrong execution drug. Another inmate, Clayton Lockett, died of a heart attack after a botched execution in which he kicked and grimaced. The execution of a third inmate, Richard Glossip, was delayed after a doctor discovered that the wrong drug was supplied.

Oklahoma had been considering a switch to nitrogen gas executions. The state will continue working on a process for nitrogen executions to be used as a backup if the state is unable to obtain the lethal injection drugs.

Twenty-six out of 47 inmates on Oklahoma’s death row have exhausted their appeals.

Dale Baich is an assistant federal public defender who represents death-row inmates in federal litigation seeking increased transparency and an improved lethal injection process in Oklahoma.

“Oklahoma officials announced the state will revert to its problematic midazolam protocol and provided no assurances that the state is prepared to carry out executions in a manner that comports with the Constitution,” Baich said in a statement.

“Oklahoma’s history of mistakes and malfeasance reveals a culture of carelessness around executions” that should “give everyone pause,” Baich said. “In the next few days, we will advise the federal court and continue with the ongoing litigation challenging the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s protocol.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 2015 Oklahoma case that use of midazolam in executions is constitutional. The second and third drugs in Oklahoma’s protocol were upheld in a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

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