POLITICS

Grand Jury Investigation Reveals Details Of Oklahoma's Despicable Execution Program

The state's attorney general called some corrections employees "careless" in how they carried out lethal injections.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections breached protocol multiple times during recent attempts to execute inmates, according a report released Thursday by a grand jury tasked with investigating the department. 

“Today, I regret to advise the citizens of Oklahoma that the Department of Corrections failed to do its job," Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said in a statement. "[A] number of individuals responsible for carrying out the execution process were careless, cavalier and in some circumstances dismissive of established procedures that were intended to guard against the very mistakes that occurred."

The 106-page report chronicles failures ranging from incompetence to outright deceit, and concludes a seven-month investigation by a multicounty grand jury.

No charges have been brought against anyone mentioned in the scathing report. However, three officials have resigned since the grand jury investigation began: DOC Director Robert Patton, who had overseen three botched executions; warden Anita Trammell, who oversaw the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, where the state's executions take place; and Steve Mullins, general counsel for Gov. Mary Fallin (R). 

Page 88 of the mutlticounty grand jury report into Oklahoma's Department of Corrections and execution protocol.
Page 88 of the mutlticounty grand jury report into Oklahoma's Department of Corrections and execution protocol.

Some of the harshest criticisms in the report were leveled against the DOC's "questionable at best" and secretive drug procurement system. The report specifically highlights an unnamed pharmacist who twice provided the wrong drugs for executions and an unnamed warden who "carelessly assumed others would fulfill his own oversight responsibility in ensuring that the proper drugs were procured." 

Overall, the report determined Oklahoma's execution protocol to be "vague and poorly drafted." 

 

Oklahoma's lethal injection procedures have been heavily scrutinized after complications arose during the execution
Oklahoma's lethal injection procedures have been heavily scrutinized after complications arose during the executions of Charles Warner and Clayton Lockett, and attempted execution of Richard Glossip.

"Oklahomans are tired of being mocked and ridiculed around the world over botched executions," Oklahoma County Judge Donald Deason said in court before the report was released to the public.  

The state's lethal injection protocol has been under intense scrutiny since the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in 2014. Lockett writhed on the gurney for 43 minutes before dying.

The event ultimately sparked a U.S. Supreme Court battle over the state's use of midazolam, a sedative it had used during Lockett's execution. 

When the state executed Charles Warner last year, he cried out, "my body is on fire" as the drugs entered his body. It was later determined that Warner had been killed with the wrong drug because a pharmacist had placed an incorrect order and corrections staff members had failed to inspect the inventory when it arrived. 

The Oklahoma DOC again obtained an incorrect three-drug cocktail before Richard Glossip was scheduled to be executed in September 2015. His execution had previously been stayed twice. 

Fallin's office wanted to move forward with Glossip's execution, even though it knew it didn't have the proper drugs -- the report alleges that officials didn't want to generate more negative press about the state's lethal injection system.

The governor's general counsel, who is not a pharmacist, suggested carrying out that execution, then seeking "clarification on the protocol" before to the next scheduled execution. The report says the counsel tried to persuade the deputy attorney general that the incorrect drug was "basically interchangeable" with the correct one and advised her to "Google it."

Oklahomans are tired of being mocked and ridiculed around the world over botched executions. Oklahoma County Judge Donald Deason

 

Grand jury testimonies revealed that many corrections employees, including some who were designated to carry out executions, were confused and made assumptions about the state's lethal injection protocol. The state's tight secrecy laws have previously kept most aspects of the execution process hidden from the public. 

Several key members of Warner's execution team, as well as the pharmacist involved in the lethal injection, testified that they had not received a written copy of the protocols. 

An unnamed Oklahoma State Penitentiary warden testified "he was not responsible for what happened at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary facility as it related to executions, despite being the Oklahoma State Penitentiary's warden, because it was the Director's job."

The warden said he had never asked about the process that took place under his watch. 

"There are just some things you ask questions about, and there's some things that you don't," he said. "I never asked questions about the process."

In this Jan. 15, 2015, file photo, a news van arrives at the front gate of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary for the scheduled
In this Jan. 15, 2015, file photo, a news van arrives at the front gate of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary for the scheduled execution of Charles Warner.

"The report makes it glaringly clear that we can never trust our government with the power to take a fellow human being's life," Helen Prejean, the nun and anti-death penalty activist who serves as Glossip's spiritual adviser, said in a statement following the report's release. 

The grand jury plans to start investigating a secondary report in June. Pruitt, the state's attorney general, has said executions in the state will be stalled until at least six months after that report is released.  

“When the state fails to do its job in carrying out an execution, the ability to dispense justice is impaired for all," Pruitt said. "This must never happen again."  

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