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Oklahoma death row inmates sue over 'unsound' execution practices

21 Oklahoma death row inmates sue state over 'unsound' execution practices

A group of 21 Oklahoma death row prisoners has filed a lawsuit to prevent the state from using its "untested and unsound" execution procedures because “they create a substantial risk of severe pain, needless suffering and a lingering death.” 

The lawsuit asserts that Oklahoma’s lethal injection practices violate the prisoners’ constitutional rights, including their 8th Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment. It also alleges that state officials failed to consult experts in the development of procedures and that the drugs being used are not suitable for executions.

"In the aftermath of Clayton Lockett's horrifically bungled execution at the end of April, there are so many unanswered questions about whether Oklahoma can humanely carry out executions," Megan McCracken of the UC Berkeley School of Law's Death Penalty Clinic told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday.

Named in the lawsuit are Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton, Oklahoma State Penitentiary Warden Anita Trammell, the seven members of the Oklahoma Board of Corrections who oversee the state prisons, and several unnamed participants who have performed or will perform executions in the state, including a doctor and a paramedic.

A spokeswoman for Oklahoma Atty. Gen. Scott Pruitt told the Associated Press they were reviewing the filing, but declined to provide further comment.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, follows the state's botched April 29 execution of Lockett using an experimental three-drug cocktail. Lockett writhed and grimaced on the gurney, struggled to lift his head and died of a heart attack more than 40 minutes later.

The filing alleges additional problems with the state’s execution procedures, including a lack of medical expertise; inadequate training of execution members; a lack of backup IV lines; flaws with the lethal injection drug midazolam, which was used with Lockett; a lack of information about compounded execution drugs; and the denial of inmates’ access to their counsel during the execution process.

“By attempting to conduct executions with an ever-changing array of untried drugs of unknown provenance, using untested procedures, the defendants are engaging in a program of biological experimentation on captive and unwilling human subjects,” the lawsuit states.

Among the plaintiffs are inmates Charles Warner, who had been scheduled to die the same day as Lockett but whose execution was delayed until Nov. 13, and Richard Glossip, whose execution is set for Nov. 20.

Warner was convicted of raping and killing an 11-month-old, Adrianna Waller. Glossip was convicted of first-degree murder in the beating death of motel owner Barry Alan Van Treese.

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