Oklahoma's Drug Problems Fog the Death Penalty's Future
By Rick Green
There have been so many problems in carrying out executions in Oklahoma that it's hard to say whether the death penalty can continue in this state, Gov. Mary Fallin said Thursday.
"Can't answer that question yet," she said, "but it certainly is not helpful to us having the death penalty in Oklahoma."
An improperly set intravenous line slowed the death of one man, the wrong drug was given to another and a third execution was called off at the last minute because of the same drug mistake.
"Sure I'm frustrated, absolutely," Fallin said.
The latest error was revealed Wednesday with documents showing Oklahoma used the wrong drug to execute a man in January.
"We cannot trust Oklahoma to get it right or to tell the truth," said Dale Baich, an attorney for convicted murderer Richard Glossip.
Glossip was in his boxer shorts and within minutes of going to the nearby death chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary on Sept. 30 when Gov. Mary Fallin granted him a stay of execution.
She did so because one of the three drugs prepared for him was potassium acetate, when the proper drug in the state protocol is potassium chloride.
Both drugs will stop the heart.
Potassium acetate was used in the Jan. 15 execution of baby killer Charles Frederick Warner, according to records obtained by The Oklahoman.
"The state's disclosure that it used potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride during the execution of Charles Warner yet again raises serious questions about the ability of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections to carry out executions," Baich said.
"The execution logs for Charles Warner say that he was administered potassium chloride, but now the state says potassium acetate was used."
The logs indicate Warner was administered drugs from syringes labeled as potassium chloride at 7:20 p.m. and 7:22 p.m.
However, an autopsy report indicated these syringes were actually drawn from vials of potassium acetate.
Gov. Mary Fallin said an investigation will get to the bottom of the problems.
"Moving forward, the attorney general, the Department of Corrections and my office will work cooperatively to address these issues," she said. "Until we have complete confidence in the system, we will delay any further executions."
The governor's office has retained former U.S. Attorney Robert McCampbell to act as an independent legal counsel to examine execution problems. He is being paid with public funds.
Warner was the last murderer to be executed at the penitentiary in McAlester.
His execution was the first since the problematic, 43-minute execution of Clayton Lockett on April 29, 2014. A state investigation concluded an improperly placed intravenous line slowed Lockett's death.
Lockett, who was convicted of murder, rape and kidnapping, was writhing and making noises when he was supposed to be unconscious.
Reactions to mix-ups
Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, has been a critic of the Department of Corrections for some of its prison release policies and finds fault with the department now.
"The problem is with the DOC, not with the death penalty," he said. "There is a problem at DOC, something within the agency that needs to be addressed."
When executions are scheduled and then called off, it's hard on victims' families, he said.
"If you're talking about the defendant you have to talk about the victim," Biggs said. "Very few look at it from the victim's point of view, what all they have been through, what they have suffered."
The Rev. Adam Leathers, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said the problem is the death penalty itself.
"I don't think there could be any other institution in this state as flawed, as corrupt, as expensive, as meaningless, as the death penalty and yet it still exists," he said.
If lethal injection is ever ruled unconstitutional or if the drugs became unavailable, a bill approved by the Oklahoma Legislature would allow executions to be carried out by giving the condemned person nitrogen.
This so-called nitrogen hypoxia is not done in any other state.
(c)2015 The Oklahoman