OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – A string of errors on the execution bed in McAlester has put Oklahoma in the national spotlight once again, a year after a high-profile Supreme Court battle over the cocktail of drugs used to carry out the state’s capital punishment.
“I think we should be embarrassed,” said Jacqui Ford, a criminal defense attorney. “We look like some backwoods rednecks, and this isn’t the way we should be perceived.”
An autopsy shows the state used potassium acetate, instead of the approved potassium chloride, to execute Charles Warner in January.
Warner raped and murdered 11-month-old Adrianna Waller in 1997.
Pharmacists have said potassium acetate and potassium chloride are equivalents.
“How can we justify moving forward with any future executions, when we can’t even order the pharmacist to order the right medicine?” Ford said. “If we can’t even do this part right, then we can’t trust the government to do the rest of it right.”
Oklahoma’s government fought hard for the death penalty last year, engaging the U.S. Supreme Court in a battle over midazolam, one of the drugs in the lethal cocktail.
Since establishing a strict protocol for administering drugs, Oklahoma’s executions have been marred by mistakes.
In May, Attorney General Scott Pruitt was accused of lying to the Supreme Court.
Pruitt had argued the state was forced to use the controversial drug midazolam because another execution drug, pentobarbital, was no longer available.
To support that argument, the AG’s office filed a brief with the Supreme Court, which included a heavily redacted letter from a pharmacy in Texas.
That pharmacy had manufactured pentobarbital for the state of Texas.
Pruitt’s office allegedly misrepresented that the letter had been sent to Oklahoma.
An unredacted version of the letter shows that is not true.
Then, last month, the highly-publicized execution of Richard Glossip had to be halted when corrections officers discovered they had the wrong drugs on site.
It was the same mix-up found to be made at Warner’s January execution.
In a statement, the AG said he is, “evaluating the events that transpired on September 30, 2015, ODOC’s acquisition of a drug contrary to protocol and ODOC’s internal procedures relative to the protocol.”
“The State has a strong interest in ensuring that the execution protocol is strictly followed,” Pruitt said. “I want to assure the public that our investigation will be full, fair and complete and includes not only actions on September 30, but any and all actions prior, relevant to the use of potassium acetate and potassium chloride.”
Former prosecutor Lou Keel, who led the legal fight against Charles Warner, said he understands the state’s position.
“I understand they want to get it right,” he said. “I understand that they want the drugs that they used to be in an exact proportion to one another. So, I understand why they have to examine this and make sure it’s done in the most efficient, best manner possible, but there are some killings that are so horrible, the manner in which they’re done, so heinous and atrocious that there’s one just punishment.”
Keel said it’s unfair to lump the mistakes together, and they have to be looked at individually.
In particular, he’s hesitant to condemn the state’s mistake at the January execution of Warner.
“I don’t know that you can say anything was botched,” he said. “The objective was to put him to sleep, and it sounds like they accomplished their objective.”