Friday 28 October 2016

Oklahoma agrees to halt executions until at least 2016 amid wrong drug probe

Published 17/10/2015 | 01:21

The Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. (AP)
The Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. (AP)

No executions will be scheduled in Oklahoma until at least next year, as the attorney general's office investigates why the state used the wrong drug during a lethal injection in January and nearly did so again last month.

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Attorney general Scott Pruitt made the disclosure when he and lawyers for death row inmates asked a federal judge to suspend a lawsuit challenging Oklahoma's lethal injection protocol.

The judge agreed after both sides said they wanted the case put on hold while Mr Pruitt investigates how the state twice got the wrong drug.

Executions have been delayed in a handful of states because of drug issues, including Arkansas, where state officials on Friday asked the state Supreme Court to allow lethal injections to resume.

A judge put executions on hold in Arkansas last week after inmates challenged a state law that allows prison officials not to disclose where they get execution drugs. Oklahoma has a similar law.

The latest investigation in Oklahoma came after governor Mary Fallin called off the execution of Richard Glossip hours before he was scheduled to die on September 30. Prison officials discovered they had potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride, the specified final drug in Oklahoma's three-drug execution process.

A week later, a newly released post-mortem report showed Oklahoma used potassium acetate to execute Charles Warner in January.

Warner was originally scheduled to die in April 2014, the same night as Clayton Lockett, who writhed and moaned before dying 43 minutes after his initial injection. Lockett's botched execution, which was ultimately blamed on an improperly placed intravenous line, also prompted the state to put executions on hold as it investigated.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has issued indefinite stays for Glossip and two other inmates who were set for execution this year in Oklahoma. Friday's court filing said Mr Pruitt will not request any execution dates until at least 150 days after his investigation is complete, the results are made public, and his office receives notice that the prisons department can comply with the state's execution protocol.

"My office does not plan to ask the court to set an execution date until the conclusion of its investigation," Mr Pruitt said in a statement.

Dale Baich, an attorney for the inmates, said it would be difficult to pursue civil litigation amid an ongoing criminal investigation.

"So putting the case on hold while the investigations play out is a prudent thing to do," Mr Baich said.

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