OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A federal judge has ruled against a group of death row inmates who were challenging the legality of Oklahoma’s execution protocol.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by 26 death row inmates claims Oklahoma’s three drug cocktail does not prevent extreme pain during execution. As a result, they allege that it should be considered cruel and unusual punishment.
Attorney Jim Stronski, the attorney for the plaintiffs, argued that Midazolam does not achieve general anesthesia, meaning it does not protect inmates from an extreme burning sensation that would be caused by the drug potassium chloride.
During the trial, Stronski called the drug cocktail “a 21st century burning at the stake.”
However, attorneys for the state said that the plaintiffs did not prove that the three drug cocktail violates the 8th amendment of cruel and unusual punishment.
They cited the FDA, which certified that Midazolam does induce general anesthesia. State attorneys also argued that there was no response from the inmates when doing pain tests after Midazolam was administered.
Officials say the controversy began in 2014 after Clayton Lockett was injected with the new three-drug cocktail. The sedated 38-year-old woke up, twitching and convulsing on the table, before dying 43 minutes later from a heart attack.
An autopsy later showed a collapsed vein caused the drugs to leak into his tissue instead of his bloodstream.
Nine months later, Charles Warner was scheduled to be the next person the state would execute. However, a drug mix-up caused the 47-year-old to be given potassium acetate, rather than potassium chloride. Warner is reported to have said “My body is on fire” before dying 18 minutes later.
On Monday, Judge Stephen P. Friot ruled in favor of the state.
“The district court’s decision ignores the overwhelming evidence presented at trial that Oklahoma’s execution protocol, both as written and as implemented, creates an unacceptable risk that prisoners will experience severe pain and suffering. We are assessing our options for an appeal,” said Jennifer Moreno, attorney for the death row inmates.
Archbishop Paul Coakley also released a statement on the ruling. Coakley has been a staunch critic of the death penalty.
“No matter the decision of the court on Oklahoma’s protocol, the use of the death penalty only contributes to the continued coarsening of society and to the spiral of violence. Taking another life does not ultimately bring closure and peace to those who have lost a loved one, and it goes against the principle of valuing life. Justice is necessary, but it is not enough. Mercy perfects justice and brings healing. I urge state leaders to end the death penalty in Oklahoma,” said Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, Archbishop of Oklahoma City.
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections released this statement following the ruling:
“The Oklahoma Department of Corrections is prepared to carry out the orders of the court in accordance with state statute.”ODOC statement
“The death penalty is a flawed, biased, and an arbitrary practice that is not free from error. The ACLU of Oklahoma is extremely disappointed with today’s ruling in favor of our state’s three-drug lethal injection protocol. The world has watched as our state has gone through the process of killing its citizens with catastrophic failure and will no doubt once again witness more botched executions that highlight the incompetence of the process and the state’s deliberate indifference to human suffering. Over the last several years, and especially during the trial, the state has done absolutely nothing to inspire confidence that they are now able to successfully exercise the ultimate power of any government. Instead, they lean on a lack of transparency and the expertise of doctor who is not Board Certified.”
“In light of this ruling, we strongly urge the state to hold their requests for execution dates until all legal remedies have been exhausted before embarking on another killing spree that could include up to 28 people currently eligible under the law. The ACLU of Oklahoma firmly stands against capital punishment and will continue to advocate against this ultimate abuse of government power.”Megan Lambert, Legal Director Oklahoma ACLU
“The State has proven that the drugs and method of execution satisfy the United States and Oklahoma constitutions,” Attorney General John O’Connor emphasized. “The Court’s ruling is definitive: The plaintiffs in this case ‘have fallen well short’ of making their case, and midazolam, as the State has repeatedly shown, ‘can be relied upon… to render the inmate insensate to pain.’”