It became painstakingly clear — again — on Thursday there are shortcomings in Oklahoma's lethal injection protocol that must be addressed before the state carries out another execution.
Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Scott Crow's attempt to explain away the scene described by those who witnessed the first execution carried out in Oklahoma since 2015 will not suffice. There appears to be enough evidence now to show the first ingredient used by the state in its lethal three-drug cocktail will not work as intended.
Midazolam was used by the state for the first time in 2014, when it botched Clayton Lockett's execution, after a drug once used became unavailable. Six other states that have used the drug in various concoctions also have reported problems with after using midazolam.
Witnesses of executions where midazolam was used to render inmates unconscious have reported seeing them cough, convulse, lurch and jerk as the drug courses through their bodies. Those who witnessed on Thursday the execution of John Marion Grant, sentenced to death for the 1998 slaying of a prison cafeteria worker, added vomiting to the list of adverse reactions to the 500 mg-dose administered at the state prison in McAlester.
Crow defended his use of the term “without complication” on Friday, saying there was no interruption of the agency’s execution procedures. He also shared his preference for terms like regurgitation rather than vomit — there is a technical difference to which medical professionals would object — and dry-heave rather than convulse.
Crow said a medical professional at the prison told him “regurgitation is not a completely uncommon instance or occurrence with someone who is undergoing sedation.” That assertion was disputed by an anesthesiologist interviewed by The Associated Press.
Dr. Karen Sibert, an anesthesiologist and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that type of nausea is not normally associated with the class of drugs that includes midazolam. A lack of oxygen could have brought on the convulsions observed by those who witnessed Grant's execution — autopsies performed on inmates administered midazolam as part of an execution protocol exhibited signs of pulmonary edema, the result of lungs being filled with fluids such as blood and plasma.
We're not arguing here the merits of the death penalty. But state corrections officials have demonstrated during each of its three most recent executions serious flaws exist with the state's death penalty system.
There is little doubt the problems observed this week will be used as ground to raise new legal challenges. We urge state officials to halt future executions voluntarily, then take the time necessary to develop a protocol that works.