Oklahoma bungled drugs used in executions: grand jury report

Reuters News
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Posted: May 19, 2016 6:37 PM

By Jon Herskovitz and Heide Brandes

(Reuters) - An Oklahoma grand jury looking into the state's troubled executions said in a report released on Thursday that jail staff did not verify what drugs they were using for lethal injections and were unaware when the wrong drugs were administered.

The report, running more than 100 pages, offered a stinging rebuke of state officials, especially those in the Department of Corrections, for their handling of executions, which are currently on hold in Oklahoma due to the troubles in the death chamber.

"Today, I regret to advise the citizens of Oklahoma that the Department of Corrections failed to do its job," Attorney General Scott Pruitt said in a statement.

Oklahoma drew international condemnation following a troubled execution in 2014 in which medical staff did not properly place an intravenous line on a convicted murderer, Clayton Lockett.

The grand jury that released Thursday's report was tasked with looking into the state's troubled executions.

"The Director of the Department of Corrections orally modified execution protocol without authority," the report said.

"The pharmacist ordered the wrong execution drug," it added.

In the 2014 instance, the execution was halted after the needle popped out, spewing chemicals in the death chamber. Lockett, seen twisting on the gurney, was pronounced dead about 45 minutes after the procedure began due to chemicals built up in his tissue.

The state revised its protocols, but the two planned executions that followed last year were flawed, with the wrong chemicals being added to the mix.

One of the executions was carried out, and convicted murderer Charles Warner said in his final words: "My body is on fire." The other execution, of Richard Glossip, was halted just minutes before the planned time after the mistake was discovered.

Three top officials who were called by the grand jury stepped down shortly after testifying: the warden of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, the director of the Department of Corrections and Steve Mullins, general counsel to Governor Mary Fallin..

The report said the general counsel pushed for going ahead with Glossip's execution, knowing the state had a drug not on its official protocol.

It also said Oklahoma should look at alternative methods, such as death by nitrogen gas.

"More transparency is needed as well as accountability for a pattern of serious mistakes in the administration of the death penalty in the state," said attorney Dale Baich, who has represented Oklahoma death row inmates.

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