OKLAHOMA CITY – Ten days after a bill was introduced in the Oklahoma House of Representatives to end the use of the death penalty in Oklahoma, state officials announced they are ready to resume executions.
A recent press release from Attorney General Mike Hunter announced the state has found a reliable supply of drugs to resume executions by lethal injection. Hunter was part of a joint news release that included Gov. Kevin Stitt and Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) Director Scott Crow.
There are 47 individuals on death row, which includes one woman, Brenda E. Andrew, 56, from Oklahoma County. She is being held at the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McCloud. All male inmates on death row are held at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.
The state’s last execution was in January 2015. An indefinite hold was put in place on executions in October 2015, by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals at the request of former Attorney General Scott Pruitt. An inquiry was launched into the state’s execution procedures when it was discovered the wrong drug was used in the lethal injection execution of Charles Warner.
Warner was the first inmate executed since the botched 2014 execution of Clayton Lockett. He died from a heart attack after his lethal injection was carried out incorrectly. As a result, Oklahoma garnered national and international scrutiny regarding its capital punishment procedures.
Currently, no executions are scheduled. The state is required to provide a five month notice to the state Criminals Appeal Court before execution dates can be resumed. Hunter announced Thursday that the state Attorney General’s Office has complied with “the notice provisions of the joint stipulations,” thus enabling the state to request execution dates for inmates 150 days after they have exhausted their appeals.
An article posted at the Death Penalty Information Center recently reported that Oklahoma had joined nearly two-thirds of death penalty states (18 of 29) that have not carried out any executions in at least five years.
Associated Press reporter Sean Murphy reported Thursday that in 2015, Oklahoma became the first state in the nation to approve the use of nitrogen gas for use in executions, but never finalized plans to use it.
Hunter said Thursday that prison officials have made “good progress” on developing a device to deliver nitrogen gas and will continue their efforts in case drugs become unavailable again the future.
Department of Corrections emails obtained by the AP show the agency’s former deputy chief of operations reached out to a manufacturer of reduced oxygen breathing units used to help train pilots on the signs and symptoms of hypoxia.
The president of the company responded that she didn’t believe executions would be an appropriate use of their product and that she had concerns about potential liability, Murphy reported.
Dale Baich, a federal public defender representing death row prisoners who are challenging the state’s execution procedures in federal court, said in a statement to the AP that he’s disappointed the state is reverting to the same three-drug protocol that has been used in past problematic executions.
“Oklahoma’s history of mistakes and malfeasance reveals a culture of carelessness around executions that should give everyone pause,” he said. “In the next few days, we will advise the federal court and continue with the ongoing litigation challenging the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s protocol.”
The execution protocol announced Thursday utilizes the same drugs that Oklahoma used previously including midazolam, which the U.S. Supreme Court found constitutional in 2015. Hunter said he anticipated court challenges but that any past problems during executions have been associated with human error, rather than the drugs themselves, Murphy reported.
Meanwhile, more than two dozen inmates have exhausted all their appeals and are awaiting execution dates to be set.
“It is important that the state is implementing our death penalty law with a procedure that is humane and swift for those convicted of the most heinous of crimes,” Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said in the joint press release. “Director Crow and Attorney General Mike Hunter have worked diligently and thoroughly to create a path forward to resume the death penalty in Oklahoma, and the time has come to deliver accountability and justice to the victims who have suffered unthinkable loss and pain.”
The updated lethal injection protocol includes several of the recommendations by the 2016 multicounty execution drugs at every step in the process and more training for the execution teams, among others.
Also, consistent with a multicounty grand jury recommendations, the DOC continues to work on a protocol that will allow the state to proceed by execution through nitrogen hypoxia, when appropriate.
Even after the botched execution in 2014, Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved a state question in 2016 placing the death penalty in the state constitution’s statutes, and Stitt said he supports it.
State Rep. Jason Dunnington doesn’t think capital punishment deters crime and is a waste of money. He recently filed House Bill 2876 for consideration during the 2020 legislative session. If passed and signed into law, the measure will amend statutes which relate to the definition of a felony; removing the death penalty as an option for punishment; updating language and specifying which death penalty cases are subject to certain sentencing procedures.
His bill went through a second reading and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.