Oklahoma gets wrong execution drug, delays lethal injection


McALESTER, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Glossip was just minutes away from his scheduled lethal injection, stripped of all his belongings in a holding cell just a few feet from the state’s death chamber, when he learned his execution had once again been delayed.

“I’m just standing there in just my boxers,” Glossip, who claims he’s innocent, told reporters in a telephone interview from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. “They wouldn’t tell me anything. Finally someone came up and said I got a stay.”  

For the second time in as many weeks, the 52-year-old Glossip on Wednesday received a last-minute stay of execution — this time a 37-day delay from Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin after prison officials said one of the three drugs they had received to carry out the lethal injection was the wrong one.

Oklahoma’s protocols call for the use of potassium chloride, but the state received potassium acetate instead. The state Department of Corrections receives its lethal injection drugs on the day of an execution, Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz said. State law prohibits prison officials from revealing the supplier of the drugs.

After realizing the mistake, the Corrections Department reached out immediately to the attorney general’s office, Weintz said. Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office advised Fallin and prison officials that the state’s lethal injection guidelines, which had been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, had to be followed, said Pruitt spokesman Aaron Cooper.

“It is unclear why, and extremely frustrating to the attorney general, that the Department of Corrections did not have the correct drugs to carry out the execution,” Cooper said. But Dale Baich, an attorney for Glossip, said he was informed in a letter from Pruitt’s office last month that the Department of Corrections had already obtained the potassium chloride and other drugs needed for the execution.

“Oklahoma has had months to prepare for this execution, and today’s events only highlight how more transparency and public oversight in executions is sorely needed,” Baich said. The state’s execution protocols call for the prison’s death row section chief to ensure the drugs are ordered, arrive as scheduled and are properly stored after the execution date is set, which in Glossip’s case happened two weeks ago.

Fallin reset Glossip’s execution for Nov. 6, saying it would give the state enough time to determine whether potassium acetate is a suitable substitute, or to find a supply of potassium chloride. Hours before Glossip was scheduled to be executed Sept. 16 for ordering the 1997 killing of Barry Van Treese, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals granted a rare two-week reprieve to review his claims of new evidence, including another inmate’s assertion that he overheard Justin Sneed admit to framing Glossip.

The Van Treese family, in a statement to The Associated Press, said: “The only response we can muster at this juncture is a collective ‘unbelievable.’ “We continue to have faith that it will, at some point, be finished.”

Glossip has long claimed he was framed by Sneed, a motel handyman who admitted to fatally beating Van Treese with a baseball bat, but said he did so only after Glossip promised him $10,000. Sneed, who is serving a life sentence, was the state’s key witness against Glossip in two separate trials. But the same court this week denied Glossip’s request for an evidentiary hearing and emergency stay of execution, saying the new evidence simply expanded on his original appeals.

The U.S. Supreme Court also refused to block the execution Wednesday, just before Fallin issued her stay. Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton said he requested the stay “out of due diligence” after learning officials had the wrong drug.

“This will allow us time to review the current drug protocol and answer any questions we might have about the drug protocol,” he told reporters at the media center near Oklahoma’s execution chamber before walking away without taking questions.

Patton took over as head of corrections in January 2014. That April, Clayton Lockett writhed and struggled against his restraints after an intravenous line was improperly placed. Lockett died 43 minutes after his lethal injection started.

Another one of Glossip’s lawyers, Donald Knight, said he will use the additional weeks to press the inmate’s claim that he had nothing to do with Van Treese’s death. “Hopefully the extra time will bring us more witnesses who know Justin Sneed is a liar,” Knight said.

Besides his innocence claim, Glossip has been the lead plaintiff in a separate case in which his attorneys have argued that the sedative midazolam wouldn’t adequately render an inmate unconscious before the second and third drugs were administered. They said that presented a substantial risk of violating the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 in June that the sedative’s use was constitutional. Oklahoma’s protocols call for the use of midazolam at the start of an execution. It is followed by vecuronium bromide, which halts an inmate’s breathing, and potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

Oklahoma first used midazolam in the Lockett execution. After that, the state increased by five times the amount of midazolam it uses and executed Charles Warner in January. He complained of a burning sensation but showed no other obvious signs of physical distress.

Oklahoma has two more executions planned in upcoming weeks. A corrections department spokeswoman said there currently are no plans to delay those punishments.

Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy


3 thoughts on “Oklahoma gets wrong execution drug, delays lethal injection

    1. From what I’ve heard about this case, there is substantial reason to doubt Glossip’s guilt. If we must have the death penalty, it should only be used when there is ZERO doubt about the facts of the case.

      Even if Glossip were known to be guilty, this process of preparing to execute him, only to stop at the last minute, amounts to psychological torture. That’s clearly “cruel and unusual punishment.” But who cares about the Bill of Rights anyway, right?

  1. Wishful thinking…. at first glance I though the headline said “Obama gets wrong execution drug” and figured I was asleep too long.

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