Judge doubts Oklahoma ready for Nov. 13 execution
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A federal judge said Thursday he is concerned Oklahoma will not be able to implement new guidelines and training for executions before three inmates are scheduled to die in the coming months.
Oklahoma recently said it would revamp its procedures for administering lethal injections, retrain its staff and renovate its death chamber after the April 29 execution of Clayton Lockett, who writhed and moaned before he was declared dead 43 minutes after his execution began. The execution renewed scrutiny of lethal injections in America and prompted 21 death row inmates to file a lawsuit saying that they still fear their executions could be cruel and violate their constitutional rights.
U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot expressed his own concern at a hearing and suggested the state seek a delay of executions while the lawsuit continues and said there would be an injunction hearing “pretty soon,” but did not set a specific date.
“The timing issues become that much more prominent,” Friot said in denying the state’s motion to stay the lawsuit.
Assistant Attorney General John Hadden told Friot during the hearing that he needed to consult with prison and other state officials before deciding on a course of action. Aaron Cooper, a spokesman for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, said in an email to The Associated Press that the office had no comment.
If the state does nothing, Friot said he will consider the inmates’ request to postpone all executions.
State prison officials have said they intend to have the new guidelines and equipment in place in time for the first scheduled execution of Charles Frederick Warner on Nov. 13. But the lawsuit, which was not updated after a report this month that detailed the state investigation’s findings and recommendations, alleges prison officials are experimenting on them and that the drugs being used are not suitable for executions.
Friot said legal papers filed by both sides indicate they both want the same thing: a method of administering lethal injections that meets constitutional requirements and avoids mishaps. He suggested the lawsuit could be resolved with the help of an independent mediator.
Warner, 47, had been set to die on the same day as Lockett but his execution was postponed. Warner was convicted in the 1997 rape and murder of 11-month-old Adrianna Walker, the daughter of his roommate.
Oklahoma also has set Richard Eugene Glossip’s execution for Nov. 20. Glossip, 51, was convicted in the 1997 death of Barry Alan Van Treese, whom Glossip feared would fire him for failing to properly maintain a south Oklahoma City motel, according to prosecutors.
John Marion Grant, 53, is scheduled to be executed Dec. 4 for stabbing corrections worker Gay Carter to death in 1998 after Carter had removed Grant from a job in the prison kitchen.
Also Thursday, 10 death row inmates challenging Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol were permitted by a judge to amend their lawsuit to include objections to the use of the electric chair.
Tennessee’s General Assembly passed a law earlier this year allowing prisoners to be electrocuted if Tennessee Department of Correction officials were unable to obtain the drug used for lethal injection.
Prior to that, prisoners could not be forced to die by the electric chair, although they were allowed to choose that method under some circumstances.
The death row plaintiffs claim the new law violates both the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions. Among other things, they claim it violates evolving standards of decency. They also claim that the law is too vague. And they question whether the state’s electric chair actually operates as it is supposed to.
Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman ruled on Wednesday that the inmates could amend their lawsuit to include the new claims. The original lawsuit challenged the state’s new lethal injection protocol, adopted in September 2013. It switched execution from the use of three drugs to just one, pentobarbital.
The switch was a response to legal challenges over the effectiveness of the three-drug mixture and a nationwide shortage of one of them, sodium thiopental. Those issues have effectively prevented any executions in Tennessee for nearly five years.