Oklahoma's new execution rules call for higher drug dose, more training, fewer media witnesses



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OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma prison officials unveiled new execution procedures Tuesday to replace those used in April when an inmate writhed and moaned before being declared dead 43 minutes after his lethal injection began — a situation that renewed debate over what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

The new guidelines allow the state to keep using midazolam, a sedative used in flawed executions earlier this year in Ohio, Oklahoma and Arizona, although it calls for increasing by five times the dose it gave Clayton Lockett in April. Other changes include more training requirements for prison staff and members of the execution teams, and having contingency plans in case of problems with execution equipment or an inmate's medical condition. The new protocols also reduce the number of media witnesses from 12 to five.

An investigation ordered by Gov. Mary Fallin after Lockett's execution that was conducted by the Department of Public Safety blamed his lengthy death on the poor placement of a single intravenous line in his groin and a decision by the warden to cover the IV site with a sheet. The investigation recommended more training for prison staff and a contingency plan, both of which are included in the new procedures.

The director of the Department of Corrections, Robert Patton, declined to comment on the protocol changes, citing ongoing litigation.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Dale Baich, who represents 21 death row inmates who have sued the state Department of Corrections to block their executions, said the new protocols do not solve Oklahoma's execution problems.

"We still do not know what went wrong with Mr. Lockett's execution," Baich said. "Discovery and fact-finding by the federal courts will address those issues.

"The prisoners still do not have access to information about the source of the drugs, the qualifications of the executioners, or how the state came up with the different drug combinations."

Under the new guidelines, Oklahoma can continue to administer midazolam, a sedative often given to patients before surgery and commonly known as Versed, as part of three-drug and two-drug protocols.

A normal dose in medical settings is usually less than 5 milligrams. Oklahoma's previous protocol called for 100 milligrams. The new recommended dosage of 500 milligrams matches that of at least one other state, Florida, which also uses the drug as part of its procedures.

Baich also said cutting the number of media witnesses "reduces public accountability and makes the process less transparent."

A federal judge had expressed concern earlier this month that Oklahoma will not be able to implement new guidelines and training for executions before three inmates are scheduled to die this fall.

Charles Warner, who has been set for execution the same night as Lockett, is now scheduled to die Nov. 13. Oklahoma has also set execution dates for Richard Glossip on Nov. 20 and for John Marion Grant on Dec. 4.

Lockett's execution raised new concerns about lethal injection drugs and the secretive process many states use to obtain them. President Barack Obama called the botched execution "deeply disturbing" and called for a review of how the death penalty is applied in the United States.


Oklahoma Department of Corrections: http://www.doc.state.ok.us


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