By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Today, May 5, Judge Stephen Friot of the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma ordered Oklahoma state officials to provide additional information to death row prisoners about the State’s plans for training protocols related to lethal injection executions.
The Oklahoma death row prisoners, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, have argued that Oklahoma’s Notice of Protocol, released on February 13, is incomplete.
After a five year moratorium on the death penalty, on Feb. 13. state officials announced that the same three drug lethal injection protocol cocktail would be reinstated that was used in the two infamous botched executions in Oklahoma.
As earlier reported by The City Sentinel, the new protocol retains the use of midazolam in a three-drug cocktail, which has contributed to a number of problematic executions across the country, including the execution of Clayton Lockett.
The death row prisoners’ previous litigation challenging Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol was administratively closed in 2015 pursuant to a Joint Stipulation between the prisoners and the state.
At the hearing, attorneys for the prisoners argued that the state’s “Notice of Protocol,” does not comply with the 2015 Joint Stipulation.
Attorneys representing Oklahoma death row prisoners argued that “the protocol lacks the details about execution personnel training necessary to assess whether the revised protocol addresses the issues that led to the use of an unauthorized drug in the execution of Charles Warner (January 15, 2015), which was almost repeated before Richard Glossip’s execution (September 30, 2015) was halted at the last minute.
Attorneys also argued that the Oklahoma Department of Corrections has not provided specific protocols and training for staff carrying out executions, denying prisoners “a full and fair opportunity to address all constitutional issues.” And that death row prisoners “should not be subject to execution by surprise.”
They further argued the Department of Corrections has not provided satisfactory notice that it can comply with the express terms of the execution protocol to ensure humane and constitutional executions in the future.
In response to the submission from prisoners’ legal counsel, Judge Friot ordered the State to provide all available additional information about execution training to the Plaintiffs by June 5, and to continue to provide updates as further amendments or changes are made.
The death row prisoners’ litigation challenging the State’s lethal injection process is ongoing, with their second amended complaint due July 6.
“There is nothing more essential to minimizing a risk of another mishap in Oklahoma’s executions than to ensure the individuals carrying out the execution are thoroughly trained,” said Dale Baich, one of the attorneys representing Oklahoma death row prisoners in the federal lethal injection lawsuit.
“Today’s order establishes that Oklahoma officials must disclose key details about execution personnel training,” he added.
“It is no secret that inadequate training is the significant factor as to why there were problems in Oklahoma’s past executions,” Baich continued
“The Grand Jury and the Death Penalty Review Commission both identified significant flaws in the department’s previous training program and until the state develops and releases details about the new training protocols, the court cannot evaluate, and the public cannot have confidence in, the department’s readiness to conduct constitutional executions,” Baich said.
“Additionally, Judge Friot set a reasonable timeframe for the case to proceed. Oklahoma will not conduct executions until the lethal injection litigation is resolved.”
According to The Oklahoman, the judge also revealed at the hearing the Attorney General Mike Hunter prosmised in March not to seek any new execution dates while the protocol challenge is pending. The judge told attorneys for the death row prisoners that he will be available immediately if that changes.
Death Row Plaintiffs’ Motion to Enforce the Terms of the Court’s Order Granting Joint Stipulation (Filed March 10, 2020)
Oklahoma’s Response to Plaintiffs’ Motion to Enforce the Terms of the Court’s Order Granting Joint Stipulation (Filed April 2, 2020).
Death Row Plaintiffs’ Reply in Further Support of Their Motion to Enforce the Terms of the Court’s Order Granting Joint Stipulation (Filed April 9, 2020).
Oklahoma’s Notice of Protocol can be found here.
Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.
Story updated May 5, 2020, 11:45pm.