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Oklahoma executions set to resume as controversy and legal appeals continue

Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty supporters will protest outside the Governor’s Mansion during the scheduled execution of Charles Frederick Warner on Thursday, Jan. 15 at 6 p.m. Photo by Mary E. Sine.
Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty supporters will protest outside the Governor’s Mansion during the scheduled execution of Charles Frederick Warner on Thursday, Jan. 15 at 6 p.m. Photo by Mary E. Sine.

By Darla Shelden

City Sentinel Reporter

The infamous “botched” Oklahoma execution of Clayton Darrell Lockett last year launched a flurry of global media coverage and litigation.

On April 29, Lockett writhed, moaned and tried to get up before the curtains were pulled closed to the witnesses. The execution was stopped, but it would be 43 minutes before Lockett eventually died.

Lockett was sentenced to death for the 1999 shooting death of Stephanie Neiman, 19, in Perry.

During the execution Oklahoma used the sedative midazolam for the time, which had been problematic in a previous execution in Ohio.

At a recent hearing, Oklahoma State Penitentiary Warden Anita Trammel testified that she had no role in drafting the protocol used to carry out the execution.

Mike Oakley, the former general counsel for the corrections department, has stated that midazolam was selected as the first of three drugs for Lockett’s execution after he talked with officials from other states and conducted his own research online.

In May a moratorium was placed on Oklahoma executions. A state review was conducted, which revealed a number of issues, including a lack of training and contingency plans.

In October the state announced a new execution policy that reduced the number of media witnesses allowed to attend from 12 to 5. It also reserved the right to regulate any witness access, giving state officials the power to close the execution viewing curtain and to remove witnesses.

The ACLU and the ACLU of Oklahoma felt the right to know had been violated even prior to the increased restrictions. They filed a lawsuit in August on behalf of media outlets The Guardian and The Oklahoma Observer arguing that this right had been denied during Lockett’s execution

“The government took a process already corrupted by secrecy and made it even more difficult for the public to know anything about it,” said Ryan Kiesel at the ACLU of Oklahoma.

According to documents filed in December the prison warden described the execution scene as “a bloody mess” in which Lockett was pricked at least 16 times in attempts to get the IV inserted for the lethal injection.

Last month U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton dismissed the lawsuit filed by the media organizations that objected to the added barriers of the new policy.

Nationally 35 executions were carried out in 2014, the lowest number in 20 years. With the moratorium, Oklahoma had only three executions compared to six in 2013.

Originally scheduled to be executed on the same day as Lockett (April 29, 2014) Charles Warner, is now set to die Jan. 15. Execution dates are also set for Richard Glossip on Jan. 29; John Marion Grant on Feb. 19; and Benjamin Cole on March 5.

Twenty-one Oklahoma death row inmates sued the state Corrections Department asking the court to allow them a say in whether or not they can be lethally injected with the same mixture of drugs used in the botched execution last April.

Among the 21 plaintiffs, the four death row inmates with set execution dates made an Application For Temporary Injunction, which U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot dismissed. They are appealing the ruling, which found the new lethal injection protocol constitutional.

The four men contend the state’s use of the sedative midazolam in a three-drug combination poses a substantial risk of unconstitutional pain and suffering. The case now rests with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Adam Leathers, OK-CADP co-chair said, ”We at the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty are saddened and disturbed at every execution. Each one of them is a meaningless act of retribution and vengeance.

“We are afraid of the stunning lack of conscience of those who press for this execution with such vigor and are somehow morally comfortable with human experimentation.”

Last month the Tulsa World and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press sued Gov. Mary Fallin and the Department of Public Safety over records the state has not yet released related to the Lockett botched execution. The suit asks a judge to find the state has not complied with the Oklahoma Open Records Act.

After the botched execution in April, $104,000 was spent renovating the Oklahoma State Penitentiary death chamber. It will be tested on Jan. 15.

“We fear, as we remember the night of April 29, that Mr. Warner and/or those after him will suffer the same gruesome fate that Mr. Lockett did,” Leathers said.

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