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 this fall.
"I'm having a hard time seeing how all of this can be done," U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot said during a hearing in a lawsuit filed by 21 death-row inmates in Oklahoma who allege that their executions could be cruel and violate their constitutional rights.
"The timing issues become that much more prominent," Friot said in denying the state's motion to stay the lawsuit. He 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.
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. A spokesman for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
If the state does nothing, Friot said he will consider the inmates' request to postpone all executions.
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.
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.
"We do not want our plaintiffs to suffer the cruel and unusual punishment that we believe Clayton Lockett suffered," said attorney Patti Ghezzi, who represents some of the inmates.
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.