OKLAHOMA - A new article raises ethical concerns about Oklahoma's search for execution drugs, as well as the state's law that conceals the source and reliability of the drugs - pentobarbital and vecuronium bromide.
The Colorado Independent claims state officials once bought 20 rounds of pentobarbital for $40,000, with a check from a petty cash account that shields the identity of the seller.
The investigation claims in response to a Texas request on how to deal with the drugs' scarcity, an Assistant Attorney General e-mailed a colleague saying "Oklahoma might cooperate in exchange for much sought-after 50-yard-line tickets to the red river rivalry" (OU-Texas football game).
"I don't know if they were joking or serious, but regardless, I think we need to expect more from our public officials," Madeline Cohen, an assistant federal public defender who is representing death row inmate Charles Frederick Warner, said Wednesday, "especially when they're dealing with a matter of such seriousness as taking a human life."
The article also references records that show executioners allegedly injected remaining drugs into convicts' dead bodies for "disposal purposes."
Two Oklahoma executions have been delayed a month while state officials round-up the execution drugs they were planning to use Thursday.
Where they get the drugs, however, is kept secret.
Cohen is pushing for full transparency of the source and reliability of these execution drugs.
When inmate Michael Lee Wilson was being executed by injection in January, he reportedly said "I feel my whole body burning."
"That freaked us out and it freaked our clients out," Cohen said.
Warner's execution has been delayed until April, along with the execution of Clayton Derrell Lockett, because the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled the state needed more time to obtain the necessary execution drugs.
But Cohen is worried Warner and Lockett could also suffer during their executions because, by law, the state doesn't have to reveal who made the drugs.
"The protection against cruel and unusual punishment in the constitution is not about the criminals," Cohen said. "It's about all of us as a society."
Lockett was convicted of torturing, shooting and burying alive 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman in 1999.
Warner was convicted of raping and murdering his girlfriend's 11-month old baby, Adriana Waller, in 1997.
Do Oklahomans care about whether or not they feel pain during their executions?
We heard comments on the street such as "absolutely not, because they're evil" - "it would be much less painful than what their victims went through" - and "we're not hacking them into little pieces or hanging them from a tree. We're injecting them to let them pass away. A needle prick is not that big of a deal."
In response to the article, a spokesperson for the Oklahoma Attorney General's office said "The Attorney General's Office is not involved in the processes surrounding the administration of lethal injections.
"The Attorney General's Office does not procure the drugs used in executions, does not store the drugs, does not administer the drugs, nor does any employee have access to the drugs. It's nonsensical to suggest or believe any employee of the Attorney General's Office would exchange drugs or any other item for tickets to a football game.
"The emails referenced show banter, admittedly in poor taste, among colleagues who deal with serious and difficult issues on a daily basis. The conversation was internal among employees of the Attorney General's Office. The comments were not made in a serious nature, nor were they received in that manner. The Attorney General believes the comments were inappropriate.
"The emails themselves were sent more than three years ago. The timing of the story, then, raises questions about the motive behind the report.
Sadly, this entire issue distracts from the real story, which is that justice again has been delayed for the innocent victims of these two convicted murderers.
"We owe it to Stephanie Neiman, young Adrianna Waller and their families to see that the punishment handed down to these two murderers for their brutal and heinous crimes are carried out efficiently, truthfully and without delay."