Hunter announced earlier this month the state, which said for about two years it was abandoning lethal injection in favor of inert gas inhalation, had instead found a source of drugs needed to carry out lethal injections moving forward.
Hunter told about two dozen district attorneys from across Oklahoma on Thursday during a District Attorneys Council meeting that the announcement on Feb. 13 kicked off a period of time for attorneys who represent death row prisoners to begin court challenges.
“We anticipate there will be federal court activity and we’re prepared to address that aggressively,” Hunter said.
Hunter said Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Scott Crow was responsible for locating the source of the drugs — midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride — but did not tell the district attorneys where the drugs had been located.
State law keeps secret the source of drugs and equipment involved in executions, as well as the names of the physicians who carry out the death penalty. Former DOC Director Joe Allbaugh said in 2018 that he had tried so hard to find a source of lethal injection drugs that he had been on the phone with “seedy individuals” in the “back streets of the Indian subcontinent” in attempts to find the drugs.
Hunter said on Thursday that Oklahoma could still one day carry out an inert gas inhalation execution, but that state law mandates such an execution only be carried out if a source of lethal injection drugs is unavailable. He did not say what quantity of the drugs Crow located, only that it was “sufficient enough to begin the process of holding those individuals accountable for their crimes.”
Lethal injection has a troubled history in Oklahoma. In 2014 the state was set to execute two men — Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner — on the same day, a first in state history. Lockett’s execution went awry. He writhed and groaned on the table, moving and being conscious at times when the drugs were supposed to have made that impossible.
The blinds to the execution chamber were closed on witnesses and it was later announced Lockett had died out of the view of witnesses. Warner’s execution that night was postponed, and he was later executed in January 2015.
Months later, the state halted another execution, that of Richard Glossip, and later announced it had secured an unapproved drug — potassium acetate rather than potassium chloride — for use in Glossip’s execution. It had also used the unapproved drug in Warner’s execution as well.
Glossip is still in prison, held on death row at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Officials have not said whether he will be the first inmate to have an execution scheduled when a court-ordered 150-day stay expires this summer.
Hunter told the district attorneys on Thursday he and Crow felt the errors that led to those mistakes have been corrected. The state’s new death penalty protocol lists different training and processes that Hunter said should reduce the chance for human error, such as color-coded syringes and both visual and oral identification of each drug prior to injection.
“At the end of the day we have an oath we subscribe to follow the law, and the law in the state is clear,” Hunter said. “Four years ago now the electorate reaffirmed support for the death penalty … We have a responsibility to the electorate, to the democratic process and the law to carry these out.”
There are 47 inmates on death row in Oklahoma, 46 men and one woman. Of those, 26 have exhausted their appeals and are eligible to have execution dates set.
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