Katie Fretland has a report at The Colorado Independent revealing disturbing details about capital punishment procedures in Oklahoma, published shortly after the state delayed the executions of two inmates due to lethal injection drug shortages.
Executioners injected drugs into the corpses of death penalty convicts for “disposal purposes,” according to documents obtained by the Independent. Oklahoma prison officials say it is protocol to inject the remaining drugs of a three-drug cocktail when inmates overdose on the first drug, an anesthetic. But a former pathologist says this practice could distort postmortem toxicology results, hindering medical examiners from determining the level of pain experienced during an execution.
Harrowing witness accounts of recent executions, as well as secrecy over the sourcing of lethal drugs, have renewed a national debate over whether lethal injection could constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment. Oklahoma death row inmate Michael Lee Wilson reportedly said, “I feel my whole body burning,” as he was put to death by lethal injection on January 9.
The Independent also published e-mails between Oklahoma officials showing little regard for the seriousness of the death penalty. State attorneys joked that they’d help Texas officials procure lethal drugs in exchange for college football tickets or rigging games outcomes.
“Looks like they waited until the last minute and now need help from those they refused to help earlier,“ Oklahoma Assistant Attorney General Stephen J. Krise wrote in an e-mail to a colleague in 2011. “I propose we help if TX promises to take a dive in the OU-TX game for the next 4 years.”
But now Oklahoma, following a national trend, is also having trouble finding the necessary lethal drugs to carry out executions.
On March 17, an Oklahoma appeals court delayed the executions of two convicted murders scheduled to die this month—Clayton Derrell Lockett and Charles Frederick Warner—after the state was unable to procure the lethal injection drugs pentobarbital and vecuronium bromide. The state attorney general’s office pledged to pursue “any and all leads” to obtain the drugs by new execution dates in April.
Prison officials in Oklahoma, as in several other states, are protected by state law from revealing the identities of its lethal drug suppliers. Attorneys for the inmates are challenging the constitutionality of using lethal injection drugs from unnamed sources, such as anonymous compounding pharmacies, arguing that the lack of transparency could put their clients at risk of experiencing cruel and unusual punishment.