Oklahoma, Florida execute inmates after narrow Supreme Court approval

Oklahoma, Florida execute inmates after narrow Supreme Court approval
Charles Frederick Warner was executed Jan. 15 in Oklahoma for the 1997 rape and murder of an 11-month-old girl. (Associated Press)

Oklahoma and Florida executed two prisoners Thursday night after the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly gave the go-ahead, despite concerns about the mixture of lethal drugs used for the injections.

Charles Frederick Warner, 47, was pronounced dead at 7:28 p.m. local time in McAlester, Okla. Warner was convicted of the rape and murder of an 11-month-old girl in Oklahoma City in 1997.
An earlier version of this post misstated Shonda Waller's name and described her as the daughter of Charles Warner's victim. She is the victim's mother.
Both executions were delayed by two hours, as the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on the executions.
The Supreme Court denied Warner's appeal in a 5-4 decision handed down past Warner's planned execution time, with the court's four liberal justices dissenting.

Warner's lethal injection ends a nine-month hiatus on capital punishment in Oklahoma that began in April, when the state killed Clayton Lockett with a bloody, confused procedure in which an executioner failed to locate a proper vein for the lethal injection.

Lockett's death last year, when he writhed on a gurney while taking 43 minutes to die, unleashed a fresh wave of scrutiny over the death penalty in Oklahoma and in other execution-performing states across the U.S.

Warner was supposed to be executed the same night as Lockett, but his procedure was canceled as officials tried to abort Lockett's execution.
Warner took about 18 minutes to die, and the midazolam, the drug in question, seemed to work without causing him to suffer, according to media witnesses.

One of Warner's attorneys, Madeline Cohen, said: "We know from the three problematic midazolam executions in 2014 that the drug cannot reliably produce a deep, comalike unconsciousness. And because Oklahoma injected Mr. Warner with a paralytic tonight, acting as a chemical veil, we will never know whether he experienced the intense pain of suffocation and burning that would result from injecting a conscious person with rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride."

The Associated Press reported that Warner said after the first drug was administered, "My body is on fire."

The AP reported, however, that Warner showed no obvious signs of distress.

His victim's mother has publicly stated her opposition to Warner's execution. "When he dies, I want it to be because it's his time," Shonda Waller said last year in a statement recorded by Warner's attorneys. "Not because he's been executed ... due to what happened to me and my child."

Warner and three other Oklahoma inmates had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to delay the executions because of questions about midazolam, one of the drugs in the three-drug cocktail now used for executions in Oklahoma.

In an eight-page dissent Thursday, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said she was “deeply troubled” by evidence that midazolam might not be appropriate to use for executions. “I believe that we should have granted [Warner and other Oklahoma inmates’] petition for stay,” Sotomayor wrote. “The questions before us are especially important now, given states’ increasing reliance on new and scientifically untested methods of execution.”

Oklahoma had said it would increase the amount of midazolam to be given to Warner in an effort to prevent the kind of problems that plagued the April execution of Lockett.

Oklahoma officials blamed the problems in Lockett's procedure on a failed intravenous line to administer the drug and a lack of training, but they exonerated the drugs used.

Still, officials late last year said they would increase the dosage fivefold, bringing the amount up to the same level used in other states, including Florida.

Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton at the end of December told a federal judge that Oklahoma would use the same formula and dosage that Florida has utilized in 11 executions. The Oklahoma chief described the procedure as humane.

The issue of how inmates are executed and whether the existing drug protocols lead to constitutionally prohibited cruel and unusual punishment have been widely debated since a series of executions in which prisoners seemed to suffer.

According to reports from the execution rooms, Dennis McGuire made snorting noises for over 20 minutes during his execution in Ohio in January. Joseph Wood took nearly two hours to die last year in an Arizona execution. Both procedures involved midazolam.

Oklahoma Atty. Gen. Scott Pruitt has said the state Department of Corrections "has responded with new protocols that I believe, prayerfully, will provide them more latitude in dealing with exigent circumstances as they arise."

His office has successfully defended Oklahoma's new protocol in federal court, leading to the latest appeal to the nation's top court.

Warner was convicted of first-degree murder and rape in the death of the 11-month-old, who was his roommate's daughter. A coroner's report says the girl died with a crushed skull, a fractured jaw, three broken ribs, a lacerated liver and a bruised spleen.

Warner said someone else could have harmed the child and denied being responsible. He has called the death "a terrible tragedy."

Kormondy and two other men were charged with killing Gary McAdams in 1993 and raping his wife during a home-invasion robbery. The couple had just returned from their high school reunion.

Kormondy's accomplices received life prison terms.

Follow @MattDPearce for national news