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Oklahoma Shows Off its New Execution Chamber, Just in Time For World Anti-Death Penalty Day

Oklahoma corrections department had bad timing in revealing its new execution room hours before today's World Day Against the Death Penalty.
October 10, 2014, 6:55pm
Image via AP/Sue Ogrocki

The state of Oklahoma on Thursday prematurely celebrated today's 12th Annual World Day Against the Death Penalty by lifting the veil on its revamped execution chamber at the state penitentiary in McAlester.

State officials showed off the facility's facelift, which cost about $100,000 and includes an improved witness area — where the family of the victim can view the execution. Jerry Massie, Oklahoma Department of Corrections public information officer, told VICE News that the renovations also include expanded storage space and modern medical equipment.

The remodeled death room will be put to use for the first time on November 13, when Charles Warner, who was convicted of raping and killing his roommate's 11-month-old daughter in Oklahoma City in 1997, is scheduled to be put to death. Massie said Oklahoma executes four or five people each year and in 2013 the state put six prisoners to death.

On World Day Against the Death Penalty, OKlahoma reveals 'new' death chamber: — Bharat Malkani (@bharatmalkani)October 10, 2014

The most important piece of new equipment might well be a $6,000 ultrasound machine that will help executioners find the veins of the inmate to be given the lethal injection.

On April 29, convicted murderer Clayton Lockett was brought into the old Oklahoma execution chamber to die by lethal injection, which proponents say is a painless method of execution. Instead, Lockett was left in visible pain and writhing on the gurney after the procedure. Officials called off the execution but Lockett died 43 minutes after he was injected, the Washington Post reported.

At first, Lockett's slow and apparently agonizing death was blamed on a new drug used in the injection. But an independent autopsy revealed that it was an issue with the IV connection that caused the problem, not the drugs, hence the importance of the new ultrasound machine. Oklahoma's corrections department received a large amount of criticism after the botched execution.

"It was a combination of both the backlash and a need for updating," Massie said of the renovation project. "Obviously we felt the need to look at the entire area and proceed with the project."

Oklahoma rep proposes new form of execution by nitrogen asphyxiation. Read more here.

Along with the new equipment and additional space, the department has established new protocols that require more training for executioners and a Plan B in the event that another injection goes wrong, according to the Associated Press.

The department maybe should have also had a Plan B on its timing, as it revealed the new execution chamber just a day before the 12th Annual World Day Against the Death Penalty. This annual event is put on by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty to raise awareness of the organization's campaign to abolish executions globally.

Massie said there was no connection between the two happenings, adding: "I was not even aware there was such a day."

The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty wasn't available for comment on Friday, but released a statement signed by 12 foreign ministers — not including a US representative — taking a stance against state executions.

"The death penalty, one of the most complex and divisive issues of our time, continues to question the fundamental values of our societies and to challenge our understanding of criminal justice," the statement reads. "We respect the views of those who still support the use of the death penalty, and we believe that everyone has a right to be protected from violent crime. However, we consider that state executions should not be taking place in the 21st century. Modern justice systems must aspire to more than retribution."

The world should follow Belgium's lead In granting prisoners the right to die. Read more here.

Follow Payton Guion on Twitter: @PaytonGuion