Oklahoma Is About to Perform the First ‘Double Execution’ In 14 Years

Despite challenges to the secrecy of its lethal drugs and unprecedented jurisdictional infighting in the state, Oklahoma is set to put two inmates to death Tuesday.

A view of the death chamber from the witness room at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. 
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Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
April 29, 2014, 4:38 a.m.

Ok­lahoma will carry out two ex­e­cu­tions just hours apart Tues­day even­ing, mark­ing the first time since Texas in 2000 that a state has put two death-row in­mates to death in the same day.

The ex­e­cu­tions of Clayton Lock­ett and Charles Warner, which will go for­ward bar­ring any ex­traordin­ary leg­al in­ter­ven­tion, will also put an end — for now — to a “con­sti­tu­tion­al crisis” in Ok­lahoma that found the Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernor and state Su­preme Court locked in an un­pre­ced­en­ted leg­al show­down con­cern­ing the secrecy of its sup­ply of leth­al-in­jec­tion drugs.

The ca­rou­sel of heated back-and-forth lit­ig­a­tion cul­min­ated last week with du­el­ing or­ders from Gov. Mary Fal­l­in and the Ok­lahoma Su­preme Court. A day after the court ruled to stay the ex­e­cu­tions in­def­in­itely, Fal­l­in is­sued a tem­por­ary, sev­en-day stay on Lock­ett’s ex­e­cu­tion, which had been sched­uled for April 22. Fal­l­in’s or­der, which was a de facto over­ride of the court’s de­cision, drew scru­tiny from leg­al ex­perts, prompt­ing some to de­clare the state was mired in a con­sti­tu­tion­al crisis.

But the court quickly balked, choos­ing in­stead to nul­li­fy its own stay and re­verse a lower-court rul­ing that found a law al­low­ing the state to keep secret the source of its leth­al drugs un­con­sti­tu­tion­al. Death-pen­alty op­pon­ents have ac­cused state of­fi­cials of suc­cumb­ing to polit­ic­al pres­sure.

Ok­lahoma’s mor­ass re­flects a grow­ing chal­lenge states are fa­cing na­tion­ally to carry out their death sen­tences be­cause of leth­al-drug short­ages. As European man­u­fac­tur­ers make it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult for states to pro­cure chem­ic­als in­ten­ded for leth­al in­jec­tions, states are be­ing forced to look else­where to pro­cure the ne­ces­sary in­gredi­ents. In Ok­lahoma, as well as oth­er states such as Texas and Mis­souri, states have turned to secret com­pound­ing phar­ma­cies to pro­duce the leth­al cock­tails.

Op­pon­ents of the death pen­alty say such secrecy vi­ol­ates a pris­on­er’s right to know how he will die and could un­der­mine Eighth Amend­ment pro­tec­tions against cruel and un­usu­al pun­ish­ment.

“We don’t know where the drugs are com­ing from,” Cheryl Pi­l­ate, a Mis­souri at­tor­ney who has rep­res­en­ted in­mates chal­len­ging that state’s drug secrecy, said earli­er this month. “They could be com­ing from a veter­in­ari­an, some dark corner of the In­ter­net, or someone work­ing in their base­ment.”

Be­cause of those pro­cure­ment chal­lenges, Ok­lahoma is set to use a three-drug cock­tail Tues­day even­ing on Lock­ett and Warner that has nev­er be­fore been used by the state. The spe­cif­ic com­bin­a­tion of drugs has only been used be­fore in Flor­ida, al­though the pro­tocol there asked for five times the amount of midazolam, which acts as a sed­at­ive.

Ok­lahoma changed its ex­e­cu­tion pro­tocol last month to al­low its De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tions to use any of five leth­al-in­jec­tion pro­ced­ures. The state has re­fused to dis­close the man­u­fac­tur­ers of those leth­al drugs, cit­ing a 2011 sup­pli­er-secrecy law of­fi­cials say is ne­ces­sary to per­suade com­pan­ies, un­der the cloak of an­onym­ity, to provide them leth­al drugs.

Ok­lahoma’s double ex­e­cu­tion Tues­day will be the state’s first since 1937.

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