MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

March 11, 2014

No delay for executions during drug suit

Judge says she lacks authority to issue stays

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma County district judge ruled Monday that she would not delay the executions of two death row inmates scheduled for later this month while the inmates challenge the state over the origins of the drugs used to carry out the death penalty.

Citing a 1992 state Supreme Court decision, District Court Judge Patricia Parrish said the state Court of Criminal Appeals, which sets execution dates, must decide on requests for stays of execution. State lawyers earlier Monday filed an objection stating Parrish has no jurisdiction in the case.

Susanna M. Gattoni, one of the lawyers for Lockett and Warner, said her office would appeal Parrish’s decision with the Oklahoma Supreme Court within 24 hours.

Parrish said, however, that she or another civil judge could handle the death row inmates’ challenge to the state’s execution procedure because the Court of Criminal Appeals does not have jurisdiction to rule in a civil matter. Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner have sued the Oklahoma Department of Corrections to learn more about the drugs that would be used to execute them.

“This lawsuit is another attempt by two convicted murders to buy more time to circumvent the judgment of a jury and the will of the people of Oklahoma. They are not innocent citizens who deserve our sympathy,” Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said in a statement.

State law protects the anonymity of pharmacies that provide Oklahoma’s execution drugs. Lawyers for the inmates said in their lawsuit that this refusal to disclose the origins of the drugs violated the inmates’ constitutional rights to due process and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.

“Plaintiffs have no means to determine the purity of the drug which may be used to execute them, and whether that drug is contaminated with either particulate foreign matter or a microbial biohazard that could lead to a severe allergic reaction upon injection,” the lawyers wrote in their state court lawsuit.

Gattoni said substandard or compounded pentobarbital could leave inmates fully conscious as drugs to paralyze them and stop their heart are administered.

“We should not want to live in a state that wants to hide how they’re enforcing the law,” she said.

Lockett is scheduled for execution on March 20 and Warner on March 27. The state will move forward with execution procedures until told otherwise, said Jerry Massie, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.

If the Court of Criminal Appeals takes up the case, it would be the third court to consider the inmates’ request for a stay. Last week, after the inmates’ lawyers tweaked their lawsuit, U.S. District Judge David L. Russell sent it back to state court on Friday, noting the Oklahoma Supreme Court had never addressed a similar challenge before and therefore that he could only guess how state justices might resolve it.

Lockett, who was convicted in the 1999 shooting death of a 19-year-old Perry woman, was denied clemency following a hearing Feb. 28. Warner was convicted in the 1997 death of his girlfriend’s 11-month-old daughter and was denied clemency on Tuesday.

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