Attorneys seeking to halt Oklahoma executions

AP News
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Posted: Dec 15, 2014 6:18 PM
Attorneys seeking to halt Oklahoma executions

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Attorneys for 21 Oklahoma death row inmates head to federal court this week hoping that behind-the-scenes details of an execution gone awry will prevent a "bloody mess" from ever happening again.

Attorneys for the state of Oklahoma say new lethal injection protocols will address the problems encountered during the April 29 execution of 38-year-old Clayton Lockett, who writhed on the gurney, clenched his teeth and mumbled before a doctor noticed a problem with an intravenous line. But the inmates argue the state is experimenting on them with new drug combinations that amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

A legal filing in the case includes accounts of Lockett's execution, including Oklahoma State Penitentiary Warden Anita Trammell's description of the scene inside the death chamber after the blinds were lowered on witnesses as "a bloody mess."

Oklahoma's first execution since Lockett's is set for Jan. 15, with three more scheduled in the following weeks. A federal judge will hold hearings starting Wednesday on the inmates' claims that the state isn't ready.

According to accounts from others in the death chamber, including execution team members, once the blinds were lowered, a doctor tried to set a second intravenous line, resulting in Lockett's blood spraying the doctor's jacket. One unidentified executioner told investigators Lockett "tried to get up" and continued straining and mumbling while prison officials scrambled to figure out what to do.

Lockett's execution ultimately was halted after prison officials consulted with the governor's office, but he died anyway 43 minutes after the first drug was administered. Witness accounts show there were no lifesaving measures given to Lockett even after the execution was halted.

The inmates' case centers on the state's use of the sedative midazolam as the first in a three-drug lethal injection procedure. Oklahoma used the drug for the first time with Lockett's execution.

The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety investigated Lockett's execution and released some — but not all — details to the public. Items kept secret include the transcripts of witness interviews, which have been obtained by defense attorneys as part of discovery.

The agency has denied requests from various media outlets, including The Associated Press, to release the additional information.

"The best information that I can give you is that it's still being reviewed by our legal division," said department spokesman Capt. Paul Timmons, "and no decision has been made as far as what they're going to release or when they're going to release it."

The secrecy has led to criticism from civil libertarians who accuse the state of whitewashing its report.

"Selective information is misinformation," said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma. "If there were even a shred of competence in the state's ability to hold itself accountable for their actions, it's gone out the window with these recent revelations."

Last week's legal filing also includes details from an interview with former Department of Corrections general counsel Michael Oakley, who said the state selected midazolam based on conversations he had with prison officials in other states and his own online research.

Oklahoma and Florida are the only states that have used midazolam as part of a three-drug protocol, but Florida uses 500 milligrams, five times the amount Oklahoma used on Lockett. Oklahoma has since revised its protocol to match the amount Florida uses.

A spokesman for Attorney General Scott Pruitt said the state is prepared to challenge many of the claims made on behalf of the inmates.

"The filings made by plaintiffs for the death row inmates are not facts settled by the court but are instead an attempt to put the best possible spin on the plaintiffs' version of their narrative," said Pruitt spokesman Aaron Cooper.

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