OKLAHOMA CITY — Department of Corrections officials Wednesday declined to provide specific details about when they expect to finish the new death penalty protocol necessary to resume executions after a nearly five-year hiatus.

Executions, meanwhile, have been on hold since 2015, and state officials said this week 24 death row inmates have exhausted all appeals and are awaiting execution dates.

“The Oklahoma Department of Corrections is working with the Governor’s Office and Attorney General’s Office on a protocol for executions,” said Matt Elliott, a spokesman for the agency, in an email.

He wrote that the agency plans to complete the protocol “as soon as we can.”

Corrections officials would not say if there was a date when executions are expected to resume or answer why it is taking so long to develop the new protocol.

In March 2018, Attorney General Mike Hunter and former DOC Director Joe Allbaugh announced they were planning to implement a 2015 law that allows executions using nitrogen hypoxia. If successful, Oklahoma would become the first state to execute inmates using the untried method of inert gases.

At the time, they said they hoped to have the new gas protocols drafted within 120 days. Executions would resume as soon as possible after that.

The men said Oklahoma would stop using lethal injection because the execution drugs were increasingly difficult to obtain. State law also allows for executions by firing squad or electric chair.

“We continue to work with the Department of Corrections to finalize the new execution protocol for nitrogen hypoxia,” said Alex Gerszewski, a spokesman for Hunter. “We owe it to not only Oklahomans who believe in capital punishment, but also the victims’ families, who wait for and expect justice to be carried out.”

Executions were halted following several mishaps. A bungled procedure in 2014 left an inmate writhing on the gurney. In 2015, an execution reportedly was carried out with the wrong drug, and a second halted after a similar issue was discovered.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Gov. Kevin Stitt said his office is coordinating with DOC and Hunter’s office on protocol for resuming capital punishment.

Chip Keating, the state’s secretary of public safety, was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

DOC board member Joe Griffin said officials have not provided him with updates or a timeline for completion.

Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhi.com.

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