Death Penalty

Grand Jury Report Paints Horrifying Picture of Death Penalty Problems in Oklahoma

A government lawyer encouraged corrections officials to proceed with an execution using the wrong drug.

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Lethal injection
Ken Piorkowski / Flickr

In April 2014, the state of Oklahoma set out to execute inmate Clayton Lockett using a drug cocktail that had not previously been tried in the U.S. Rather than passing away quietly within about 10 minutes, as usually occurs with lethal injections, something went horribly, infamously wrong: He writhed and strained and groaned, speaking aloud, and at one point—after he was supposed to have been knocked out—trying to sit up. Officials attempted to halt the procedure, supposedly even discussing among themselves the possibility of rushing Lockett to a hospital. More than 40 minutes after the drugs were administered, he suffered a heart attack and died.

It was not the Sooner State's finest hour. After such a public failure on the part of the corrections department, there should have been every incentive to take whatever precautions were necessary to be sure nothing of the sort would ever happen again. Indeed, the state waited nine months before carrying out another execution. By then, Oklahoma Assistant Attorney General John Hadden said, all involved were "confident that they have addressed every one of [the mistakes] and is ready to move forward."

That execution, in January 2015, was botched as well. An autopsy of the inmate, Charles Warner, released last October showed that the wrong substance was used. Per The Guardian:

The report revealed that officials injected Warner with potassium acetate, when state protocol calls for an injection of potassium chloride, which stops the heart. It is the third and final drug used for executions, following a sedative and paralytic. 

The drug vials and syringes used in Warner's execution were submitted to the medical examiner's office, and the autopsy report shows that two of the syringes were labeled with white tape "120 mEq Potassium Chloride".

However, the same report shows the 12 empty vials used to fill the syringes were labelled "20 mL single dose Potassium Acetate Injection, USP 40 mEq\2 mEq\mL".

Whoops?

We now know the story gets—if you can imagine it—even worse. Yesterday a grand jury released a new report finding, among other things, that:

  • the state of Oklahoma nearly used the same incorrect drug in another execution (that of convict Richard Glossip, which Gov. Mary Fallin eventually stayed) in September;
  • the mistakes happened because, in the words of Attorney General Scott Pruitt, "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 then-warden of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, Anita Trammell, noticed that some of the vials set to be used in the Glossip execution were labeled as the wrong drug but, she testified, she "thought it was the same thing";
  • even after the presence of the wrong drug was uncovered, the governor's then–general counsel, Steve Mullins, encouraged corrections officials to go ahead with the execution anyway, since "filing a motion to stay would look bad for the State of Oklahoma because potassium acetate had already been used in Warner's execution"; and
  • Mullins falsely claimed that potassium chloride and potassium acetate were "basically one in the same drug" and told the deputy attorney general to "Google it." 

The grand jury declined to hand down any indictments for now, but the report is, to put it mildly, scathing. "It is unacceptable for the governor's general counsel to so flippantly and recklessly disregard the written protocol and the rights of Richard Glossip," it reads in one place. "This investigation revealed that the paranoia of identifying participants clouded the Department's judgment and caused administrators to blatantly violate their own policies," it reads in another. "The Warden carelessly assumed others would fulfill [her] own oversight responsibility in ensuring that the proper drugs were procured," blares a particularly critical subheading.

"Oklahomans should carefully consider the grand jury's conclusions and ask themselves whether they should trust their state with" the authority to execute people, said Marc Hyden, national coordinator of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, in a statement.

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  1. “Oklahomans should carefully consider the grand jury’s conclusions and ask themselves whether they should trust their state with” the authority to execute people

    Spoiler alert: nope, and neither should anyone anywhere.

    1. They’ll probably get it right next time. Geez. GO SOONERS!

  2. Funny…

    My dog was gone in under a second. Why didn’t they use that stuff?

    1. Because ketamine is commonly abused.

    2. Because it can lead to muscle spasms, which might make the execution’s audience feel bad about having wanted to come watch another human being get murdered.

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  5. However, the same report shows the 12 empty vials used to fill the syringes were labelled “20 mL single dose Potassium Acetate Injection, USP 40 mEq\2 mEq\mL”.

    They were trying to mummify him?

  6. I’m not really the death penalty’s biggest fan, for various reasons, but I don’t see why the death-penalty states are letting themselves get pushed around by a drug boycott and reacting by making lethal injections more dangerous.

    Why not abolish lethal injections altogether?

    Have convicted killers fill out a form specifying their preferred method of execution – if they don’t pick one, the judge will pick one for them.

    “Good evening sir, my name is Jack Ketch and I will be your executioner. You have a choice of hanging, shooting, the guillotine, and the electric chair. Hanging? Very well, sir, I will be right back with your order.”

    1. 1. Handful of barbituates dissolves in a bottle of hard liquor of your choice.

      2. Sedative injection and helium asphyxiation.

      Choose one.

      1. Slightly (lulz) more demented options:
        1) Death by anti-aircraft gun
        2) Trapped in dungeon filled with thousands of carnivorous fire ants
        3) Being forced to masturbate for 64 hours straight to a high-res picture of Hildabeast’s long-dormant coochie. No lube.
        4) Contract terminal illness and die waiting for medicine ration under Obamacare.
        Did I miss anything? Not sure which of these sucks the most…

  7. RE: Grand Jury Report Paints Horrifying Picture of Death Penalty Problems in Oklahoma

    1. We simply must not execute the most egregious violent felons because they might get an oweee.
    2. We must allow them to live their lives out while they parasite off our tax dollars with the food they’re given, the medicine, medical and dental care, education, cable TV, etc.
    3. We must do everything we can to make their stay as comfortable as possible otherwise the rest of the world won’t like us no more.

    1. It costs 12,394 times more money to execute a prisoner than it does to warehouse them for 50 years. Or something.

      1. I’m, no. It doesn’t.

    2. 1. We must not execute the most egregious violent felons because the government is really shitty at criminal justice, we never know 100%, and you can’t take *any* of death back if you make a mistake.

      2. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

      3. Death penalty neither reforms the executed nor dissuades others from committing murder any more than life imprisonment does.

      4. If you’re worried about them parasiting off out tax dollars – then you should be far more concerned about the parasites in jail for drug use/possession/dealing charges. Or the guys in jail because they couldn’t pay their $15 parking ticket along with the several hundred dollars of fees, assessments, and taxes added on top of it.

      1. How about exile to an island off Alaska?

  8. It’s much the same dynamic as in the fight over abortion. Each side pushes the other into being total gits because to show any sign of responsibility, any sign of concern about the mistakes ones own side might be making, gets used as a point of attack by the other side.

  9. I say bring back the guillotine. It’s the most “humane” method of execution that I know of- quick and painless.

    If we don’t have the stomach for it then perhaps it’s time to reconsider the death penalty.

    1. I agree, except you misspelled “giant woodchipper”.

  10. the then-warden of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, Anita Trammell, noticed that some of the vials set to be used in the Glossip execution were labeled as the wrong drug but, she testified, she “thought it was the same thing”;

    Two men walk into a bar. The first one says, “I’ll have some H2O.” The second says, “I’ll have some H2O, too.” The server brings their drinks and they both drink. The second man drops dead.

    1. A know-it-all nerd walks into a bar. Everyone glares at him.

  11. the then-warden of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, Anita Trammell, noticed that some of the vials set to be used in the Glossip execution were labeled as the wrong drug but, she testified, she “thought it was the same thing”;

    Two men walk into a bar. The first one says, “I’ll have some H2O.” The second says, “I’ll have some H2O, too.” The server brings their drinks and they both drink. The second man drops dead.

  12. Just out of interest, in the 4 states with physician-assisted suicide have there been any botched suicides?

    1. I don’t know – but it doesn’t take a physician. It just takes someone who can read an instruction book and has the attention to detail to read labels.

  13. Its fucking amazing. Sedative, plastic bag, plastic tube, canister of an inert gas a roll of duct tape.

    You can find instructions on the internet.

    And still the government fucks it up.

    Still better than the UK I guess – there they let you lie in a hospital bed while they refuse to provide food or water. Oh wait, *those* people are elderly patients, not convicts.

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  15. The correct method of execution is what Yahweh commands- stoning. Anything else is goyish heresy.

  16. “he suffered a heart attack and died.”

    Mission Accomplished!

    In any event, it’s the anti-death penalty people who are making it difficult to get the best drugs to kill these deserving criminals, so boo fucking hoo.

  17. This would be the Clayton Lockett who shot a 19 year old because he thought she might testify against him for his other crimes, then instructed his accomplices to bury her alive?

    Fuck that animal…he got a quicker death than his victim, and if he suffered some pain as a result of it then that’s just a pity for him, but it accomplished the result intended.

    1. Because clearly our goal as a society should be to demonstrate we’re all just as vicious and sadistic as murderers.

      1. False choice: whereas that Lockett asshole intentionally inflicted pain and torment on that girl, the state simply effed up an execution that was intended to be painless. It’s a mistake and it looks bad on them, but there is no moral equivalency here.

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