Oklahoma Injected Lethal Drugs Into Its Death-Row Convicts”“After They Were Executed

And officials joked about trading drugs with Texas in exchange for college football tickets.

A view of the death chamber from the witness room at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. 
National Journal
Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
March 18, 2014, 12:14 p.m.

The state of Ok­lahoma in­jec­ted ex­ecuted con­victs with leth­al drugs for “dis­pos­al pur­poses,” newly pub­lished state re­cords show.

The macabre prac­tice, first re­por­ted Tues­day by The Col­or­ado In­de­pend­ent, could tamper with post­mortem tox­ic­o­logy res­ults in a way that ob­scures from pub­lic know­ledge the amount of pain en­dured dur­ing ex­e­cu­tion, a rev­el­a­tion that calls in­to ques­tion the state’s meth­ods for ad­min­is­ter­ing cap­it­al pun­ish­ment at a time when leth­al-in­jec­tion pro­to­cols na­tion­wide are draw­ing re­newed scru­tiny.

“Con­victs ex­ecuted in Ok­lahoma have in some cases died from over­doses of pento­bar­bit­al or so­di­um thi­opent­al, the an­es­thet­ic, rather than the second and third in­jec­tions in the three-drug cock­tail, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments ob­tained by The In­de­pend­ent,” re­port­er Katie Fret­land writes. “Re­cords show ex­e­cu­tion­ers then in­jec­ted the re­main­ing two drugs in­to con­victs’ dead bod­ies for what forms turned over in re­sponse to an open-re­cords re­quest refer to as ‘dis­pos­al pur­poses.’ “

State pris­on of­fi­cials de­fen­ded the prac­tice, telling The In­de­pend­ent that it fol­lows ap­pro­pri­ate pro­tocol.

Fret­land’s re­port­ing also ex­am­ines email ex­changes among Ok­lahoma of­fi­cials jok­ing about help­ing Texas ob­tain cer­tain leth­al drugs in ex­change for col­lege foot­ball tick­ets — or for the Texas Long­horns throw­ing games against the Ok­lahoma Soon­ers.

“Looks like they waited un­til the last minute and now need help from those they re­fused to help earli­er,” an of­fi­cial wrote in Janu­ary 2011. “So, I pro­pose we help if TX prom­ises to take a dive in the OU-TX game for the next 4 years.”

Sep­ar­ately, the Ok­lahoma Court of Crim­in­al Ap­peals an­nounced Tues­day it would push back two im­min­ent ex­e­cu­tions, after the state an­nounced earli­er this week it did not pos­sess the drugs ne­ces­sary to carry out the death sen­tences. As­sist­ant At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Seth Bran­ham told the Ap­peals Court the state had un­der­gone “noth­ing short of a Her­culean ef­fort” to carry out the ex­e­cu­tions of Clayton Lock­et, sched­uled for March 20, and Charles Warner, sched­uled for March 27.

Warner and Lock­ett’s ex­e­cu­tions have been pushed back to April 22 and 29, re­spect­ively.

“We hope that no ex­e­cu­tion will go for­ward un­til we are able to ob­tain full in­form­a­tion about how Ok­lahoma in­tends to con­duct those ex­e­cu­tions, in­clud­ing the source of its ex­e­cu­tion drugs,” Madeline Co­hen, an at­tor­ney for Warner, said in a state­ment.

Sev­er­al states around the coun­try are run­ning out of the drugs they have re­lied on for dec­ades to carry out death sen­tences, as European man­u­fac­tur­ers are mak­ing it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to pro­cure such chem­ic­als if they are in­ten­ded for a leth­al in­jec­tion.

In re­sponse to the grow­ing dif­fi­culties, some states have re­cently con­sidered a re­turn to older meth­ods of ex­e­cu­tion gen­er­ally con­sidered less hu­mane. Vir­gin­ia weighed a bill in Janu­ary that would have man­dated elec­tro­cu­tion be used to per­form an ex­e­cu­tion if a leth­al in­jec­tion could not oc­cur. The meas­ure passed the state’s lower cham­ber be­fore dy­ing in the Sen­ate.

Law­makers in Wyom­ing and Mis­souri have also flir­ted with a re­turn to the fir­ing squads.

To learn more about the wide-reach­ing im­plic­a­tions of states con­front­ing leth­al-in­jec­tion drug short­ages, read Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s earli­er cov­er­age here.

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