The unexpected postponement of the execution of a death row inmate in Oklahoma after the wrong drugs were delivered to the prison has led to new questions being asked about the ultimate punishment.
Now an appellate court in Oklahoma has agreed with state officials to postpone the executions of three inmates this month and in November. The scheduled execution of one of the inmates was stopped last Wednesday due to a problem with one of the lethal-injection drugs.
More than a year of training and preparation went into ensuring that the executions in Oklahoma went without problem, but a last minute hitch which saw the wrong drugs delivered to the prison, derailed the process.
“Until my office knows more about these circumstances and gains confidence that (the Department of Corrections) can carry out executions in accordance with the execution protocol, I am asking the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to issue an indefinite stay of all scheduled executions,” Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said in a statement last week reported ABC News.
The Attorney General’s request was granted at the end of last week, staying indefinitely the scheduled executions of three inmates, including Richard Glossip, an inmate who has been spared three times since his original execution date last year.
It remains unclear how the wrong execution drug showed up at the jail last week. Officials were meant to receive the heart-stopping drug potassium chloride as required under the state’s three-drug protocol. Instead, the execution team received potassium acetate from the drug supplier, which was not identified in reports. The sealed box arrived on the day of the execution. The New York Times reported on how officials did not notice the mistake until they opened it two hours before Glossip was set to die.
It’s alarming to think of what would have happened if Glossip had been executed using an incorrect cocktail of drugs. Last year was labeled the worst year on record for botched executions. In Arizona Joseph Rudolph Wood III suffered an execution that lasted almost two hours.
In the same year Ohio executed Dennis McGuire using a new and untested two-drug cocktail of midazolam and hydromorphone. Arizona had used the same combination to kill Wood. McGuire’s execution lasted 25 minutes and was the longest in Ohio’s recent history. He was reported to have gasped several times throughout.
The latest problems have led death penalty opponents to ask Oklahoma how such a basic mistake could be made and to even reconsider the use of the death penalty entirely.
Problems with lethal injection drugs partly explain why the use of the death penalty is declining in most US states including Texas. The issues in Oklahoma undermine claims that the ultimate sanction can be carried out humanely and may hasten the decline of the death penalty across the United States.