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.
What We're Following See More »
A DHS report "found gaping holes in domestic nuclear detection and defense capabilities and massive failures during covert testing." A team put in place to assess our readiness capabilities found significant issues in detecting dangerous radioactive and nuclear materials, failing to do so in 30 percent of covert tests conducted over the course of the year. In far too many cases, the person operating the detection device had no idea how to use it. And when the operator did get a hit, he or she relayed sensitive information over unsecured open radio channels."
Donald Trump is planning to reverse an Obama-era order requiring that schools allow students to use the bathroom that coincides with their gender identity. Trump "has green-lighted the plan for the Justice Department and Education Department to send a “Dear Colleague” letter to schools rescinding the guidance." A case is going before the Supreme Court on March 28 in which Gavin Grimm, a transgender high school student, is suing his high school for forbidding him to use the men's room.
Retired Russian diplomats and members of Vladimir Putin's staff are compiling a dossier "on Donald Trump's psychological makeup" for the Russian leader. "Among its preliminary conclusions is that the new American leader is a risk-taker who can be naïve, according to a senior Kremlin adviser."