By Heide Brandes
OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - Oklahoma should extend its moratorium on executions indefinitely until "systemic flaws" in the state's capital punishment system are repaired, a bipartisan group said on Tuesday after a year-long review prompted by problems with prior lethal injections.
The state put executions on hold in October 2015. The 11-member Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission, led by former Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry, a Democrat, and made up of both death penalty supporters and opponents, said more time was needed to fix issues including the state's drug protocol.
Oklahoma is among a number of states facing scrutiny over the death penalty, as U.S. executions fell to a quarter-century low last year and condemned inmates challenge sentencing laws, procedures and the types of drugs used.
"The commission did not come to this decision lightly," Henry said at a press conference at the state Capitol. "We were all disturbed at the volume and the seriousness of the flaws in Oklahoma's capital punishment system."
The office of Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, a Republican, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The group announced its findings a day after Arkansas won a protracted legal battle to carry out back-to-back lethal injections Monday night, the first double execution of inmates in the country since 2000.
The Oklahoma commission's nearly 300-page report recommended dozens of changes to the state's death penalty process after studying it from arrest to execution.
It said Oklahoma should switch to a one-drug protocol from a three-drug protocol in order to use the most effective and humane method of lethal injection possible.
The commission, formed soon after the state imposed the moratorium amid a grand jury investigation of the execution process, identified problems in other areas, such as forensics, innocence protection and the execution process itself.
Henry said many of the findings "were disturbing and led members to question whether the death penalty can be administered in a way that ensures no innocent person is put to death."
Fifteen Oklahoma inmates are awaiting execution dates after unsuccessful appeals.
The commission plans to present its report to state lawmakers, though officials will not be bound by the recommendations from the independent group of citizens.
The grand jury's report in May 2016 exposed failures in the final stages of Oklahoma’s death penalty, including the use of the wrong drug for the January 2015 execution of Charles Warner, who was convicted of raping and murdering an 11-month-old.
(Reporting by Heide Brandes; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Grant McCool)