The Oklahoma attorney general's office has reached an agreement that will effectively bar the state from scheduling any executions until well into 2016, pending an investigation into how the state repeatedly mishandled its lethal drug supply and ultimately executed a death row inmate with the wrong deadly dose.
In a joint filing to a federal court judge on Friday, attorneys representing 20 death row inmates have agreed to suspend proceedings to a lawsuit challenging the state's execution protocols until the state can ensure it is able to effectively carry out capital punishment.
The agreement comes amid revelations that the Department of Corrections used the wrong lethal drug combination in the January execution of Charles Warner, who was convicted in the 1997 rape and murder of his girlfriend’s 11-month-old baby. Autopsy results show that executioners mistakenly used potassium acetate in Warner's lethal injection -- not potassium chloride, as required under state protocols.
It's an eye-popping blunder considering that, one week before details of Warner's execution came to light, Oklahoma officials were caught scrambling hours before a separate execution due to the exact same drug mix-up. That execution, of Richard Glossip, who was sentenced in 1998 for persuading a co-worker to kill their boss, was ultimately stayed. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has since granted the state's request for an indefinite stay of all three of its upcoming executions.
Attorney General Scott Pruitt's office is conducting an investigation into all aspects of the Department of Corrections’ handling of executions. Under the agreement filed Friday, no future execution can be scheduled until the investigation is complete, the results are made public and there is a 150-day -- or roughly five-month -- waiting period.
Dale Baich, one of the attorneys for the case, expects that it will be at least a year before Oklahoma will be able to complete its investigation and comply with four benchmarks outlined in the agreement.
"We’ve always been concerned about transparency in the process of carrying out executions," Baich told MSNBC. "Hopefully these investigations that Oklahoma intends to pursue will get to the bottom of what went wrong over the last year."