OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – It has been five years since Oklahoma performed its last execution, but state leaders say they have plans in place that will allow executions of death row inmates to resume.
Executions were placed on hold after a pair of botched executions took place several years ago.
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.
“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.”
An autopsy report says the officials used potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride to kill Warner.
In March of 2019, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter told KFOR that a new execution protocol was close to being finalized.
Officials said they were making plans to use nitrogen gas for executions rather than lethal injection.
"The challenge is we have to obtain a device that facilitates the introduction of nitrogen gas into the individual's system," Hunter said.
On Thursday, state leaders gathered near the Oklahoma State Capitol to announce that a new execution protocol has been put into place.
State officials said the state has found a reliable supply of drugs to resume executions by lethal injection.
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."
Although the state previously announced the move to nitrogen hypoxia, but officials say a 2015 law specifically states that death sentences shall be carried out by nitrogen hypoxia only if the drugs for lethal injection are unavailable.
"My commitment to Oklahomans who remain tormented by the loss of their loved ones has been that we would go any route necessary to resume executions as expeditiously as possible within the rule of law," Hunter said. "They have endured enough through the decade of waiting on the lengthy appeals process and the state's attempts to get the protocol right. I appreciate Director Crow and his team for their tireless search to acquire the drugs from a reliable source. Because of these efforts, we can finally tell the victims their wait for justice is nearly over."
Hunter says the state should be able to request execution dates for inmates who exhausted their appeals after 150 days.
Right now, there are 47 inmates on Oklahoma's death row.
After the announcement, Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, Archbishop of Oklahoma City, issued the following statement:
“We need to stop spending taxpayer money to kill human beings. We deserve justice for these heinous crimes, but we don't end the cycle of violence by committing more violence. In all of these cases, we lost a life, and the death penalty only serves to further devalue human dignity. We have the capability now to punish criminals and protect society without killing in return. I call on our legislators and Gov. Stitt to make a change for Oklahoma and choose non-lethal ways to ensure justice.”
The ACLU of Oklahoma released the following statement:
“We fundamentally disagree with the Governor and the State Attorney General. There is simply no humane way for the government to kill its people. Oklahoma’s experiment with the death penalty is a miserable and grisly failure. Death sentences are handed out arbitrarily and magnify the biases that exist within our criminal legal system. Whether someone is executed depends more on which county they happen to be in, their race or gender, the race or gender of the victim and whether they had the financial means to hire adequate legal counsel. Statistics have shown that more than 10 percent of the people with a death sentence have been wrongfully convicted.
The government’s actions remain shrouded in secrecy and they continue to refuse to share important details of the execution protocol. In short, the government’s stated position is “trust us.” Members of the legislature joined the press conference today, where the Attorney General stated he fully expects this protocol to be challenged in court. The entire ordeal seems like more of an election year stunt than an attempt to carry out the law, but one where people's lives and our Constitutional rights are on the line. So forgive us for not trusting the government on this one. Combine the random nature of who gets the death penalty, with the state’s repeated failures in carrying out executions, the government’s refusal to share information, and the possibility of Oklahoma executing an innocent person, and it just seems like common sense that we should not trust the government with this awesome and irrevocable power.”