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Oklahoma death row prisoners’ secure right for new trial in their Eighth Amendment challenge to state lethal injection protocol

By Darla Shelden, City Sentinel Reporter —

OKLAHOMA CITY – Today (Wed,, August 11) Federal District Judge Stephen Friot issued a dramatic ruling that the prisoners’ Eighth Amendment challenge to the protocol may proceed to a trial on the merits of whether Oklahoma’s problematic execution protocol violates the Constitution.

In 2014, Oklahoma botched the execution of Clayton Lockett; a year later, the state executed Charles Warner using the wrong drug; and almost executed Richard Glossip with the wrong drugs.

For the past seven years, Oklahoma prisoners have been seeking to ensure that if the State executes them, it does not do so in a way that risks subjecting them to excruciating and unconstitutional pain and suffering. 

On Feb. 13, 2020, state officials said that Oklahoma would resume executions with an “updated version” of the lethal injection protocol.

As earlier reported by The City Sentinel, the new protocol retains the use of midazolam in the three-drug cocktail, which has contributed to a number of problematic executions across the country, including the execution of Clayton Lockett.

The court also granted summary judgment to the State on the prisoners’ other legal challenges to the protocol. 

In today’s district court’s order – Richard Glossip v. Randy Chandler – Judge Friot stated:

“This action challenges Oklahoma’s execution protocol under the United States Constitution, the Oklahoma Constitution and other laws. It is brought by inmates who have been sentenced to death by the State of Oklahoma. Defendants are state actors, sued in their official capacities only, who are charged with carrying out the death sentences. The case has already been before the Supreme Court, but that was at the preliminary injunction stage and involved an earlier version of Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol.

On October 16, 2015, a few months after the Supreme Court’s ruling on June 29, 2015 affirming denial of plaintiffs’ motion to preliminarily enjoin executions, this action was administratively closed, by agreement, for an indefinite period. The purpose of the closure was to permit the state to investigate and amend its execution procedures. This action was reopened on March 19, 2020.

On July 6, 2020, a Third Amended Complaint was filed, challenging the state’s new protocol. Certain counts of the Third Amended Complaint were dismissed by the court on a motion to dismiss.”

Following the release of Judge Friot’s ruling, Dale Baich, Assistant Federal Public Defender, attorney for the prisoners, made the following statement:

“Plaintiffs are pleased that the court agreed that the merits of their Eighth Amendment claim need to be heard in a full trial. We look forward to presenting our evidence in court.”

In today’s findings, Judge Friot continued:

These rulings, along with the court’s rulings at the motion to dismiss stage, mean that the only claims which remain for trial are those alleged by the twenty-six plaintiffs.”  

In a statement to The City Sentinel, Baich added, “Our position is that no execution dates should be set while this litigation examining the efficacy of the execution methods is pending.”

The court has set a scheduling conference for August 31 and indicated possible trial dates of January 24 or February 28 next year, with the trial scheduled for one week.

To read the district court’s order, click here

On Wed., August 11, Federal District Judge Stephen Friot issued a dramatic ruling that the prisoners’ Eighth Amendment challenge to the protocol may proceed to a trial on the merits of whether Oklahoma’s problematic execution protocol violates the Constitution. File photo