Judge Clears Oklahoma's Drug Cocktail for Executions

Move clears way for more death-row inmates, though an appeal is expected
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 6, 2022 11:34 AM CDT
Judge: Oklahoma's Drug Cocktail for Executions Is Fine
This 2014 file photo shows the gurney in the the execution chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla.   (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

A federal judge in Oklahoma on Monday ruled the state's three-drug lethal injection method is constitutional, paving the way for the state to request execution dates for more than two dozen death-row inmates who were plaintiffs in the case. Judge Stephen Friot's ruling followed a six-day federal trial earlier this year in which attorneys for 28 death row inmates argued the first of the three drugs, midazolam, isn't adequate to render an inmate unable to feel pain and creates an unconstitutional risk of severe pain and suffering. Attorneys for those inmates are expected to appeal Friot's decision to the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, per the AP.

James Stronski, an attorney for the inmates, told Friot that if inmates aren't properly anesthetized, they would be paralyzed and unable to move or speak after the second drug is administered and then feel excruciating pain as the final drug, potassium chloride, is injected to stop the heart. "If this is allowed to continue ... this is a 21st-century burning at the stake," Stronski told the judge. Attorneys for the state rejected that argument and maintained that a 500mg dose of the drug was more than enough to ensure that inmates are unable to feel pain.

Oklahoma resumed lethal injections in October with the execution of John Grant, who convulsed on the gurney and vomited before being declared dead. Since then, three more executions have been carried out without noticeable complications. Oklahoma had one of the nation's busiest death chambers until problems in 2014 and 2015 led to a de facto moratorium. In one case, Richard Glossip was just hours away from being executed in September 2015 when prison officials realized they received the wrong lethal drug. It was later learned the same wrong drug had been used to execute an inmate in January 2015.

(Read more Oklahoma stories.)

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