death penalty | A long line of executions was planned in Oklahoma

Oklahoma, which suspended the use of the death penalty for several years after failing with dramatic consequences, has just set a schedule to execute 25 prisoners in two years.

Posted at 5:00 am

Marc Thibodeau

Marc Thibodeau
The press

The initiative, which was approved by a state court days ago, raises fears of further abuses, including the possible September execution of a former hotel manager found innocent by a bipartisan group of elected officials.

Robert Dunham, who directs the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), a research center on the death penalty, believes that the decision to carry out “chain” executions virtually guarantees mistakes will be made and prisoners will be denied their right to an execution response and defense.

Unfortunately, Oklahoma seems more interested in its willingness to carry out executions than in ensuring fair trials and answering questions raised by the methods used.

Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Centre

Announcing the timetable days ago, Attorney General John O’Connor argued in a statement that the families of some of the victims of death row inmates have waited decades for “justice to be served.”

“My office intends to assist them as they take another step in the ordeal inflicted on them by the killers,” he said.

Mr. O’Connor also pointed out that during a 2016 public consultation, the people of Oklahoma broadly supported keeping the death penalty for the “most rogue” murders.

Controversial cocktail

The attorney general has held off moving forward until a federal judge validates the drug cocktail used by state prison services to inject death row inmates.

Lawyers for around 30 inmates filed a lawsuit on the issue in 2014, alleging that the chosen combination of products was likely to cause pain, in violation of the Constitution’s provisions prohibiting “cruel and unusual” punishments.

The plaintiffs were particularly concerned about the use of midazolam as a sedative, alleging that when the other two products were administered to paralyze the body and stop the heart, it was insufficient to prevent those executed from suffering .

Judge Stephen Friot, in a ruling issued in early June, noted that midazolam “is capable of rendering the inmate insensible to pain for the few minutes required to complete the execution,” although it is not. the best product for it”.

He said defense attorneys had failed to show that Oklahoma’s method of execution caused “unnecessary pain” and could be considered “unconstitutional.”

According to Mr Dunham, there is “significant” scientific evidence that people executed by injection could develop pulmonary edema during the procedure and that midazolam does not have sufficient anesthetic effects to prevent them feeling the resulting pain.

One of the experienced doctors stated that they must have felt a sense of “panic, drowning and suffocation”.

Several US states have been forced to experiment with unusual drug cocktails after drug companies banned their products for executions.

Oklahoma decided to stay the use of the death penalty in 2015 after two botched executions, including one that left prisoner Charles Warner screaming that his “body was on fire.”


PHOTO SUPPLIED BY THE OKLAHOMA CORRECTIONAL DEPARTMENT

Charles Warner was executed in January 2015.

Another inmate, Clayton Lockett, died around the same time of cardiac arrest 43 minutes into the procedure.

Executions quietly resumed in 2021, despite authorities saying they would await a verdict in the prosecution launched in 2014.

“Systemic Problems”

While significant, the controversy over the method of execution used seems “almost insignificant” compared to the “systemic problems” Oklahoma has encountered in using the death penalty at the judicial level, notes Mr. Dunham.

Among the 25 prisoners whose execution date has just been set are several people with serious mental health problems or brain damage that should have allowed them to avoid such a sentence.

The guilt of several convicted prisoners is also seriously in doubt, stresses the DPIC chairman, who is particularly concerned about Richard Glossip’s execution, which is scheduled for September.


PHOTO ASSOCIATED PRESS SUPPLIED BY THE OKLAHOMA CORRECTIONAL DEPARTMENT

Richard Glossip

This former hotel manager was sentenced to death for allegedly ordering the assassination of the property’s owner in 1997, but a recent investigation by a law firm at the request of a group of elected officials found he was innocent.


PHOTO SUE OGROCKI, ASSOCIATED PRESS ARCHIVE

Kevin McDugle

One of the elected officials responsible for the initiative, Republican Kevin McDugle, warned in mid-June that if Mr Glossip were actually executed, he would work to abolish the state’s death penalty.

“I believe in the death penalty, I think there should be, but the process leading to a death sentence has to be absolutely flawless,” he said.

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