Oklahoma to quickly resume executions after Supreme Court decision

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 30, 2015 3:43 PM

By Heide Brandes and Jon Herskovitz

(Reuters) - Oklahoma is looking to resume executions as soon as August after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week that a drug used in the state’s lethal injection mix was appropriate and legal, officials said on Tuesday.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has filed a request with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to set execution dates for three death row inmates who were a part of the suit before the U.S. Supreme Court - Richard Glossip, John Grant and Benjamin Cole, all convicted murderers.

Lawyers for the inmates argued the drug, a sedative named midazolam, cannot achieve the level of unconsciousness required for surgery, making it unsuitable for executions.

"Despite the Court's unwillingness to step in on this important issue, and given the substantial risk of harm, litigation surely will continue," said Dale Baich, one of the attorneys for the inmates.

Florida, which has used the drug in 11 lethal injections, had placed a hold on executions while the case was before the court. It also plans to resume executions soon.

The drug is also used in Ohio and Arizona, which do not have any executions currently planned for the rest of the year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which monitors U.S. capital punishment.

The Supreme Court found on Monday that midazolam did not violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, a ruling that provoked a caustic debate among the justices about the death penalty.

The three-drug process used by Oklahoma has been under scrutiny since the troubled April 2014 execution of convicted murderer and rapist Clayton Lockett.

He could be seen twisting on the gurney after death chamber staff failed to place the intravenous line properly. The execution was called off but he died about 45 minutes after it started because of lethal injection chemicals that had accumulated in his tissue.

States that have the death penalty have had difficulty obtaining drugs for lethal injections after pharmaceutical companies, mainly in Europe, banned sales to prison systems for ethical reasons.

States were forced to find new combinations and turned to lightly regulated compounding pharmacies, which can mix chemicals, for their execution drugs.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections said it would use the same three-drug combinations in the Lockett execution for future executions but the amount of midazolam would be increased.

(Reporting by Heide Brandes in Oklahoma City and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Peter Cooney)