OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Executions are on hold in Oklahoma after the U.S. Supreme Court said Wednesday that the state cannot perform executions using a specific drug while the justices consider a challenge over whether the sedative ensures prisoners won't suffer.
Both the state and lawyers for three inmates had asked the court to postpone the executions of Richard Glossip, who had been scheduled to die Thursday night, and two others who were scheduled for lethal injection in the coming weeks.
Glossip and three other inmates challenged Oklahoma's lethal injection procedures last year, saying the sedative midazolam might not sufficiently mask pain as their hearts and lungs shut down. The justices agreed to take up their case, but not until after one of the inmates was executed two weeks ago.
On Wednesday, the justices said Oklahoma could not execute inmates using midazolam while the case is pending. The case will be argued before the court in April and decided by late June.
Midazolam has been used in problematic executions in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma. Florida has used the drug in 11 executions without apparent incident, as did Oklahoma earlier this month. A Florida execution planned for next month remains on schedule.
"Midazolam is an inappropriate drug to use in executions. The scientific evidence tells us that even the proper administration of midazolam can result in an inhumane execution," said lawyer Dale Baich, who represents some Oklahoma death row inmates.
Wednesday's Supreme Court order leaves open the possibility that Oklahoma could use other drugs for executions. The state formerly used pentobarbital or sodium thiopental, but manufacturers have stopped selling those drugs to states for use in lethal injections.
The state has not been able to find an alternative drug, Oklahoma Department of Corrections spokesman Jerry Massie said Wednesday.
Charles Warner died Jan. 15, complaining of pain but showing no obvious signs of discomfort. His execution was the first in the state since April, when Clayton Lockett writhed, moaned and struggled against his restraints after being given 100 milligrams of midazolam at the start of his execution. Investigators blamed a poorly placed intravenous line for Lockett's troubles, not the drug. Still, Oklahoma gave Warner five times as much midazolam at the start of his execution this month.
The state Department of Corrections already had moved Glossip and John Marion Grant to isolation cells near the death chamber in preparation for two of three executions that had been set between Thursday and March 5. The prison system said Wednesday they would be moved back to death row. Grant's execution had been set for Feb. 19 and Benjamin Cole was set to die March 5.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin could have issued a stay of up to 60 days but before the justices ruled but said she preferred that the court act.
After the court's ruling, Fallin said in a statement she disagreed with the necessity of granting Glossip another round of legal appeals.
"However, given that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear this case, it is entirely appropriate to delay his execution until after the legal process has run its course," she said.
Associated Press writer Kelly P. Kissel contributed to this report.
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