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Oklahoma Plans Executions, But Doesn’t Want You to Know the Details

The source of the state’s lethal drugs is unknown, despite a court’s recent ruling that the secrecy is unconstitutional.

by Katie Fretland
Apr 17 2014, 8:10pm

Photo by Ken Piorkowski

Oklahoma is preparing to kill two men, even though the legitimacy of a law that shields its source of lethal drugs is in doubt.

The state plans to inject 38-year-old Clayton Lockett and 46-year-old Charles Warner with drugs from an undisclosed source using untried dosages, despite a court’s recent determination that the secrecy shrouding the deadly pharmaceuticals is unconstitutional because it violates an inmate’s right to due process.

Oklahoma’s law dictates that the supplier of lethal drugs “shall be confidential and shall not be subject to discovery in any civil or criminal proceedings.” Because the law denies access to the courts, Oklahoma County District judge Patricia Parrish said she didn’t think her ruling was “even a close call.”

Unusual reports of lethal injections have sparked a national debate about whether the drugs are causing cruel deaths that violate the Eighth Amendment. In January, the last words of a man being put to death in Oklahoma were, “I feel my whole body burning.” That same month, an inmate in Ohio gasped and convulsed following a lethal injection, which took over 20 minutes to have its intended effect.

States are finding it difficult to buy enough execution drugs. Read more here.

“It remains critical that the Oklahoma Department of Corrections reveal the manufacturer and other relevant information about the execution drugs so that the legitimacy and effectiveness of the drugs can be confirmed, and the courts can assess the legality and constitutionality of the execution procedures,” Megan McCracken, an Eighth Amendment expert at the UC Berkeley School of Law, told VICE News.

But these concerns and Parrish’s ruling haven’t persuaded Oklahoma’s government to divulge the identity of its supplier. Oklahoma plans to use experimental dosages of midazolam, vecuronium bromide, and potassium chloride to kill Lockett and Warner. The state defended the need to keep its supplier confidential to protect it from reprisals.

“The issue of confidentiality surrounding the state’s source of lethal injection drugs has been litigated at both the state and federal level and found to be constitutional,” the state Attorney General’s office said following the ruling, which it vowed to appeal. “These legal maneuvers by two convicted murderers are an attempt to avoid their punishment for the murders of Stephanie Neiman and 11-month-old Adrianna Waller.”

Lockett was convicted of killing Neiman, who was 19 years old, in 1999. Warner was sentenced to death for killing his girlfriend’s infant daughter in 1997. Both men were also convicted of rape.

The state hasn’t yet appealed Parrish’s ruling, which didn’t affect the scheduled executions. On April 9, Oklahoma’s Court of Criminal Appeals determined that it did not have the authority to rule on the inmates’ requests for stays of execution because they weren’t challenging their convictions or death sentences. Lawyers for the two men appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which on Thursday sent the requests back to the Court of Criminal Appeals, ruling that the appellate court had mistakenly refused to consider them. Lockett’s execution is on Tuesday, and Warner’s is on April 29.

Their attorneys Susanna Gattoni and Seth Day called for full transparency in how Oklahoma planned to carry out the executions.

"Particularly given the apparent problems with other recent executions, in which prisoners appeared to suffer prolonged and torturous deaths, the state of Oklahoma must not move forward with executions in this climate of extreme secrecy until the courts can fully review all claims," they said in a statement today.

Oklahoma has executed 110 people since 1976.

Follow Katie Fretland on Twitter: @katiefretland

Photo via Flickr