Oklahoma death row inmates seek to reopen lawsuit

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Although it has been five years since Oklahoma performed its last execution, state leaders say they are preparing to start the process in the coming months. However, some inmates say the state is far from ready.

In 2014, the State of Oklahoma executed Clayton Lockett for killing 19-year-old Stephanie Nieman in 1999.

The resulting 43-minute procedure featured a never-before-used combination of execution drugs and went awry as Lockett awoke from his unconscious state, and began twitching and convulsing on the table.

Clayton Lockett
Clayton Lockett

“The doctor checked the IV and reported the blood vein had collapsed, and the drugs had either absorbed into tissue, leaked out or both,” according to a previously released timeline.

Lockett died of a heart attack 43 minutes after the execution began.

In 2015, Charles Warner was put to death for the rape and murder of 11-month-old Adrianna Walker in 1997.

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

Charles Warner
Charles Warner

An autopsy report says the officials used potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride to kill Warner.

Now, state leaders say that a new execution protocol has been put in place after they were able to find a reliable supply of drugs to resume executions.

Authorities say the state will use an updated version of the previous protocol that includes recommendations by the 2016 multicounty grand jury. The three drugs that will be used are midazolam, vercuronium bromide, and potassium chloride.

“It is important that the state is implementing our death penalty law with a procedure that is humane and swift for those convicted of the most heinous crimes,” said Gov. Kevin Stitt. “Director Crow and Attorney General Mike Hunter have worked diligently and thoroughly to create a path forward to resume the death penalty in Oklahoma, and the time has come to deliver accountability and justice to the victims who have suffered unthinkable loss and pain.”

Now, attorneys for Oklahoma death row inmates filed a Motion to Reopen the prisoners’ lethal injection lawsuit, which was closed in 2015.

In the motion, the prisoners claim that the grand jury never fully completed its investigation and that the state’s new execution protocol is incomplete.

“Section V of the Execution Protocol states that the ‘agency will establish protocols and training to enable staff to function in a safe, effective and professional manner before, during and after an execution,” the lawsuit states.

It goes on to say, “Accordingly, because the Execution Protocol is incomplete and protocols and training have not yet been established, the State: (a) has failed to comply with paragraphs 2(c) of the Order; and (b) cannot confirm that it ‘will be able to comply with the express terms of the Protocol’ as required by paragraph 2(d) of the Order.

Plaintiffs are therefore unable at this time to evaluate and determine the full extent to which the Execution Protocol violates their rights under the U.S. Constitution.”

Attorneys say they hope that a judge will consider the state’s past mishaps when deciding whether or not to reopen the lawsuit.

“Oklahoma has a history of bungling executions. The state has obtained and used the wrong drug. It has failed to properly follow its own procedures, and the mistakes by team members have caused at least one prisoner to experience a cruelly painful death. Now state officials plan to resume executions using the same old procedure, but they have not demonstrated what will be different this time. Their lack of planning is a recipe for another Oklahoma execution disaster.

“Transparency and careful judicial review are the only ways to ensure humane, constitutional executions. But the courts cannot review procedures that don’t exist, and Oklahoma’s new protocol has a placeholder promising future plans where the plans should be. Rather than articulate substantive training requirements and other necessary procedures, the state’s Notice essentially says, ‘We’ll get around to that. Trust us.’”

Attorney Dale Baich

KFOR reached out to the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office for a statement, but officials said they would let their court filings speak for themselves.

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