OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma is willing to put three executions on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court reviews whether a certain sedative can render death row inmates sufficiently unconscious, the state's attorney general said in a Monday filing with the court.
Rather than stop the executions himself, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt took the unusual step of asking the justices for a stay. Oklahoma wants the right to resume executions if it finds a different suitable drug.
"It is important that we act in order to best serve the interests of the victims of these horrific crimes and the state's obligation to ensure justice in each and every case," Pruitt said in a statement. "The families of the victims in these three cases have waited a combined 48 years for the sentences of these heinous crimes to be carried out."
The Oklahoma Constitution allows the governor to grant a 60-day reprieve. But because the case likely won't be resolved in that time frame, Pruitt sought the stays from the U.S. Supreme Court, said his spokesman, Will Gattenby.
"Likewise, the application must be filed with the Supreme Court instead of the Oklahoma Criminal Court of Appeals because there is no pending case in the Oklahoma court," Gattenby said.
Attorneys for three death row inmates awaiting execution urged the Supreme Court to grant stays of execution until the case is resolved.
"If the state is permitted to execute petitioners before the constitutionality of Oklahoma's protocol has been fully reviewed by the court, the effects are irreversible," the attorneys wrote in response to Pruitt's filing.
Richard Eugene Glossip is scheduled to be executed Thursday. John Marion Grant's execution is set for Feb. 19 and Benjamin Robert Cole is scheduled to be put to death March 5.
They are among four death row inmates who sued the state, saying they fear the sedative midazolam cannot prevent their suffering as lethal drugs take effect. One of the four was executed this month and showed no signs of physical distress. Charles Warner implied discomfort during his final statement Jan. 15 but before any lethal drugs were administered.
Oklahoma, as well as Florida, uses midazolam as one of three drugs in lethal injection executions. The second drug serves to paralyze the inmate and the third one is used to stop his heart.
Last April, Oklahoma used midazolam for the first time in the execution of death row inmate Clayton Lockett, who clenched his teeth, moaned and writhed on the gurney before a doctor noticed a problem with the intravenous line and the execution was called off. Lockett died 43 minutes after the procedure began. An investigation found he died due to the lethal drugs he was given.
Oklahoma revamped its procedures in response to the Lockett execution, including a fivefold increase in the amount of midazolam used.
"Two federal courts have previously held the current protocol as constitutional, and we believe the United States Supreme Court will find the same," Pruitt said.