Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh said on Wednesday that the agency is “getting closer every day” to acquiring a device needed to resume the death penalty, though there’s still no firm date for executions to begin again.
Since announcing last year that it will eventually replace lethal injection with “nitrogen hypoxia,” a process which in theory painlessly suffocates an unconscious person, Oklahoma has been unable to procure a device necessary to carry out such an execution.
In March, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter told the state’s District Attorney’s Council that those difficulties meant “we may and in fact we are likely to look to a state manufacturer to develop the machine.”
Hunter said it would take a device that could regulate the introduction of nitrogen through a tube and into an airtight mask over the face of the to-be-executed inmate.
Allbaugh told The Frontier on Wednesday that while DOC doesn’t yet have someone to make the device, he is sure Oklahoma Correctional Industries will not be involved in the product’s development.
Oklahoma Correctional Industries uses inmate labor to create a number of products, like furniture and outdoor grills, which are then sold to qualifying state and federal agencies.
Allbaugh also said that DOC would not put the development of the nitrogen induction device out to bid.
Shelley Zumwalt, director of public affairs for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, said DOC has an exemption to the bid process when it comes to executions.
Zumwalt pointed to state statutes that say “the purchase of drugs, medical supplies or medical equipment necessary to carry out (an) execution shall not be subject to the provisions of the Oklahoma Central Purchasing Act.
Historically a hotbed for the death penalty, there has not been an execution in Oklahoma in more than four years, dating back to the January 2015 execution of Charles Warner. Oklahoma tried multiple times since then to execute Richard Glossip, who was convicted of a murder for hire plot in 1998. However each attempt was stayed by the courts and Glossip still resides in DOC’s Oklahoma State Penitentiary.
National and international scrutiny of Oklahoma’s death penalty exploded in 2014 following the execution of Clayton Lockett. Lockett, 38, convicted of the brutal murder of Stephanie Neiman in 2000, died following an excruciating 43-minute execution on April 29, 2014, in which multiple failures led to an improperly inserted IV. Lockett woke during the execution, writhed and spoke multiple times before DOC officials closed the curtain.
Oklahoma used an untested drug mixture on Lockett that day and it was later learned the state had accidentally acquired (and used in Warner’s case) an unapproved drug in the Warner execution and in the multiple attempts to execute Glossip.
The four-year hiatus between executions is the longest since Oklahoma resumed carrying out the death penalty in 1990. Department of Corrections records show the first execution occured in 1915 and continued on a mostly yearly basis until 1966. There have been 195 executions in Oklahoma’s history.