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Oklahoma Department of Corrections takes aim at journalists over execution protocol

OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma hasn’t finished creating a new execution protocol involving nitrogen gas and it’s unclear when executions will resume. Now, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections is taking aim at journalists over the progress of the execution protocol.

ODOC released a statement Thursday regarding Oklahoma's death penalty executions saying their agency has been "deluged by questions from reporters about the supposed existence of a 'deadline' in July for developing the state's death penalty protocol for nitrogen hypoxia."

Three years ago, the state's executions were placed on hold after a pair of botched executions took place.

According to eyewitnesses to those executions, convicted murderer Clayton Lockett spent more than 30 minutes writhing in pain and convulsing after the procedure, which featured a never-before-used combination of execution drugs. 43 minutes after the execution took place, Lockett died of a heart attack.

Clayton Lockett

It took another death row inmate, Charles Warner, 18 minutes to die.

Before the three-drug cocktail was administered, Warner was heard saying, "It feels like acid," and "My body is on fire."

Charles Warner

In at least one of those cases, state officials used an unapproved drug during the execution. An autopsy report says the officials used potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride to kill Warner.

In March, Attorney General Mike Hunter, along with ODOC's Director Joe Allbaugh, announced that they planned to use nitrogen gas to execute inmates, marking the first time a U.S. state would use the gas to carry out capital punishment.

"If lethal injection is held unconstitutional, or is unavailable, an execution shall be carried out by nitrogen hypoxia. We are exercising that option," said Attorney General Mike Hunter.

"After a couple of breaths, the individual loses consciousness," said Allbaugh.

ODOC said in their statement Thursday, "we reserve the right to develop a protocol that is befitting for this state - and not the news media's schedule."

Allbaugh had said back in March he hoped to have a preliminary plan in place within three to four months.

It’s important to reiterate, the three to four month timeline originally came from the director of the ODOC, not Oklahoma journalists.

News 4 thinks we would all agree, we want the decision-makers to take as long as possible to come up with a protocol that will not bring any more national embarrassment to our state or additional anguish to the families of the victims of violent crime.

To that end, journalists should, and will, periodically check to see if progress is being made.

State executions are carried out in the name of the people, so we will continue to ask questions on behalf of the people.