The Oklahoma attorney general’s office has requested an indefinite stay of the state’s three upcoming executions after officials failed to obtain the necessary drugs in time for a lethal injection scheduled just a day earlier.
In a petition filed to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Thursday, Attorney General Scott Pruitt said all executions scheduled through early November should be placed on hold until the state can guarantee it can carry out capital punishment without incident.
“The state owes it to the people of Oklahoma to ensure that, on their behalf, it can properly and lawfully administer the sentence of death imposed by juries for the most heinous crimes,” Pruitt said in a statement.
Pruit’s office is also launching an investigation to explain why just hours before inmate Richard Glossip was scheduled to be put to death on Wednesday, the Department of Corrections notified state officials that it did not have the proper drugs to match protocols.
Glossip, who was handed a death sentence in 1998 for persuading a co-worker to kill their boss, was supposed to be given a lethal, three-part combination of the sedative midazolam, rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride. But in a news conference Wednesday, Gov. Mary Fallin told reporters that the wrong drug had been delivered to authorities – they found potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride. Fallin stepped in moments before Glossip’s execution was set to take place and issued a stay.Wednesday’s events mark the third time that Glossip’s execution has been delayed over the state’s lethal injection protocols. If the court grants the state’s request for an indefinite stay of execution, the lives of two other death row inmates would be temporarily spared as well. Benjamin Cole is scheduled to be executed on Oct. 7 for the 2002 murder of his nine-month-old daughter. John Grant, who was sentenced to death for fatally stabbing a correctional officer in 1998, faces execution on Oct. 28. Glossip’s execution was rescheduled for Nov. 6.
All three death row inmates were involved in a case before the Supreme Court this spring that called into question midazolam, the first of a three-drug cocktail used by Oklahoma. Attorneys for the prisoners argued that the drug did not guarantee that an inmate would be effectively sedated, leaving the possibility of cruel and unusual punishment once the lethal doses were administered.
It is the same sedative that was used in a series of botched executions that raised questions about the efficacy of lethal injection, a method of capital punishment previously thought of as the most humane option. The gruesome execution of Clayton Lockett, a convicted murderer, changed the national conversation after his lethal injection went horribly awry last April. Oklahoma officials temporarily called off all executions and undated the state’s equipment as it waited for guidance from the courts over how to carry out the death penalty.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could continue using midazolam.
If the state is unable to obtain the necessary drug combinations, Oklahoma state lawmakers have offered up an alternative: the gas chamber.
“The legislature did vote on being able to use nitrous oxide in Oklahoma after Nov. 1,” Fallin told reporters Wednesday. “So that is always an option moving forward when it becomes legal.”