Death Penalty

Oklahoma Wants To Use Its Old Lethal Injection Protocol, Despite Past Botched Executions

Oklahoma messed up three executions in just two years.


Oklahoma took a five-year hiatus from the death penalty after botching three executions in just two years. Now Gov. Kevin Stitt says the state will start killing convicts again—with the same lethal injection protocol as before.

Stitt, Attorney General Mike Hunter, and Department of Corrections Director Scott Crow announced on February 13 that the state possesses a "reliable supply of drugs" and would resume lethal injections using its old three-drug protocol. This series of injections features midazolam (a sedative), vecuronium bromide (a paralytic), and potassium chloride, which induces cardiac arrest.

"It is important that the state is implementing our death penalty law with a procedure that is humane and swift for those convicted of the most heinous of crimes," Stitt said in the announcement. Yet the three-drug protocol worries criminal justice reformers.

Midazolam, which makes death row inmates appear to lose consciousness, was used in the horrifically botched 43-minute execution of Clayton Lockett on April 29, 2014. Though officials administered the midazolam and declared Lockett unconscious, he awakened less than 20 minutes into the process, began to struggle and say "man" aloud, and tried to get up. An investigation later revealed that the IV placed near his groin had leaked, which went unnoticed because the area was covered. The blinds were lowered to shield the witnesses from the scene, which led to a First Amendment lawsuit; officials discussed how to stay the execution and save Lockett's life. Lockett died shortly after.

With that experience in mind, death row inmate Richard Glossip is trying to fight the state's use of midazolam.

Glossip is currently on death row for the 1997 murder of motel owner Barry Van Treese, his former boss. Though it was Justin Sneed, Glossip's then-19-year-old coworker, who beat Treese to death with a baseball bat, Sneed told investigators that Glossip pressured him into comitting the murder. Glossip has long maintained his innocence, and no physical evidence ties him to the crime.

Glossip, who has now exhausted all appeals, was set to die in September 2015. His execution was halted at the very last moment because the state did not have the correct drugs to carry out the execution. (Earlier that year, an autopsy revealed that the state had used the wrong drug to execute Charles Warner. Though the authorities were sure they followed protocol by using syringes marked as potassium chloride, the vials actually came from a box labeled as potassium acetate.)

A few months prior to his last-minute stay, Glossip's lawyers noted in a brief that midazolam had failed to properly sedate death row inmates in Ohio and Arizona. In the latter state, Joseph Wood gasped for two hours before he finally died, despite the administration of midazolam; that prompted a doctor to testify that the execution was "unintentional experimental proof that large doses of midazolam do not necessarily kill you, [nor do they] guarantee unconsciousness, and that the administration of additional doses do not cause further depression of consciousness."

Taking into account the failings of a midazolam-based lethal injection protocol, as well as Oklahoma's botched (and nearly botched) executions, advocates have little faith in the state's ability to avoid old mistakes.

Dale Baich, assistant federal public defender in the District of Arizona, represented Lockett and is now representing Oklahoma death row prisoners in a lethal injection lawsuit. Baich tells Reason he's concerned about Oklahoma's announcement that it's returning to the old injection protocol because it does not include a guarantee that the state has addressed "the significant problems that have plagued recent executions efforts."

"Oklahoma's history of mistakes and malfeasance reveals a culture of carelessness around executions should give everyone pause," he adds.

While the governor may be prepared to resume the death penalty, at least one politician in the state has called for dropping the practice altogether. Rep. Jason Dunnington (D–Oklahoma City) introduced a bill in January hoping to eliminate the death penalty by November. But the measure would not apply to Glossip or anyone else already on death row.

A state moratorium on executions was implemented following Warner's death. In 2017, the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission recommended that it be extended until the state could make significant changes to ensure fewer mistakes. This included updating its three-drug protocol to a one-drug barbiturate protocol.

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  1. What happened to pitching them off the Tarpeian Rock?

  2. “Old Lethal Injection Protocol”

    Intracranial high velocity lead injections?

  3. Why can’t they use the stuff we use to put cats and dogs to sleep?

    1. First drug, immobilize. Next drug pain. Final drug who cares because they are in excruciating pain and can’t do anything. Drag it out. Be cruel.

  4. The opinion of the Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma from Richard Glossip’s appeal of his death sentence. 157 P. 3d 147 (2007):

    In it, is a layout of the facts that goes into a bit more detail about why Glossip is on Death Row than the article’s, “Glossip has long maintained his innocence, and no physical evidence ties him to the crime.”

    As for the handwringing about the injection procedure, a tank of nitrogen is cheap. Strap a mask feeding 100% N2 to the condemned’s head, and he will rapidly be unconscious. Keep him on it for 5-10 minutes, and he’ll be dead of hypoxia. Done.

    1. Exactly right.

      Inert gas asphyxiation is no more painful than going to sleep, and 100% effective.

    2. I am surprised that no state (to my knowledge) has adopted nitrogen asphyxiation for execution. It is without a doubt the most painless way to die that has ever been developed. There’s no sense of suffocation like you get with gases like carbon dioxide. You simply pass out in a matter of seconds.

    3. Vacuum chamber.

      1. better: put the condemned in a vessel. pressurize (with time for acclimation) to 8-10 atm, then open the hatch.

        ludicrous gibs!

        1. a bruel carstid you are……

        2. Messy. Are you volunteering to clean the chamber between executions?

        3. Somebody’s been reading about the Byford Dolphin

          Indeed, very messy. And you’ll want to give the gallery earplugs.

      2. Better went chatting with girls at sex burgenland

    4. As a Board Certified Anesthesiologist, I object to making executions like operations.
      I also recommend hypoxic gas mixtures like 100% Nitrogen for executions.
      There are numerous examples of industrial accidents on ships where people rescued from improperly ventilated spaces like anchor lockers report no pain or distress as they breathed in and out, yet lost consciousness, and nearly died.
      Cheap, and requires no special expertise.

      1. As a Board Certified something Medicine MD I object to involvement in execution to begin with doctor.

        That is not what we signed up for. We are not in the killing business.

        Well this method is cheap. You are not what you say you are.

  5. three-drug protocol

    Nice band name, albeit perhaps too similar to Three Dog Night. Or Procol Harum.

  6. There are lots of good reasons to oppose the death penalty. These arguments over the means of execution, however, are not among them. The prohibition against “cruel and unusual” does not mean painless or perfectly without error. Patients in for routine surgery experience more pain than what is described above and it’s considered a normal risk. Death in nature is “red of tooth and claw”.

    I’m not advocating that we should have convicts be intentionally eaten alive. I actually oppose the death penalty on different grounds. But for the argument about the means of execution, pretty much anything short of that meets the “cruel and unusual” threshold.

    1. is the insane high cost of warehousing convicted murderers one of them? How about the high rate of recidivism leading to even more dead innocents because a murderer was turned loose into society to kill again? Perhaps the high numbers of killings in gang infested dense urban enclaves would be another reason to prohibit the death penalty, as the deterrent effect of a murderer facing certain execution, as in done, lights out, gone, dead, would tend to mitigate against choosing that path and urdering someone else as well?

      1. Tionico, those are decent practical arguments in favor of the death penalty (except the recidivism one which the statistics show is not as high as I’m betting you think it is and the deterrent argument which statistics show is almost non-existent).

        My primary argument against the death penalty is based on the inherent fallibility of humans and our decision processes. No matter how many checks and balances we put in the system, some innocents still get convicted. The results of the Innocence Project should be deeply concerning to anyone who cares about justice. Jail sentences at least have the possibility of being corrected when errors are discovered. No, we can’t give the wrongly-convicted their years back but we can throw money at them to compensate. Once we execute someone, there is no longer any possible way to right the wrong.

        Second, there is a great deal of research on the psychological effects of executions on the executioner. It is harmful in serious but subtle ways. Granted, being a prison warden is also harmful but that’s unfortunately a sunk cost. The harm we do to our executioners is avoidable.

        1. Clarification on the deterrent effect. Yes, executing a murderer “deters” that person from committing further murders. But so does life in prison. That’s not what we mean when we talk about deterrence.

          The real idea behind deterrence is that by executing you, I and other people will be less likely to commit other murders. There is extensive statistical evidence comparing jurisdictions and times with and without the death penalty that show the incremental deterrent effect on others is at best very small and likely quite close to zero.

    2. “Patients in for routine surgery experience more pain than what is described above and it’s considered a normal risk.”

      Absolutely. I had a dislocated ankle manually reduced once on an emergency basis, and the only place he could hold my leg was where it was broken. The last words you want to hear from your doctor are, “Feel free to scream if it helps.”

      But I will concede that there’s probably more sheer terror involved when you know the procedure is intended to kill you, not save your foot.

      1. “The last words you want to hear from your doctor are, “Feel free to scream if it helps.”

        Sure beats him apologizing to your incipient next of kin.

  7. This article is a whole mess of crap. The “botched” execution of Lockett had nothing to do with the “three drug protocol” and all about a slipped IV.
    The fact that the wrong drug was used for Warner does indicate something needs to be corrected in the process, but it again has nothing to do with the effectiveness (or the humaneness) of the protocol.
    “unntentional experimental proof that large doses of midazolam do not necessarily kill you,” midazolam isn’t used to kill them. JFC, it is a sedative to make it easier on the inmate.

    And I agree with the use of inert gases. People ought to Google “exit bag”. I honestly don’t know why this method isn’t used. Nitrogen is cheap, PLENTIFUL, painless and quite effective.

    1. It’s not used because every change of protocol leads to a long, expensive round of litigation, which has a significant chance of ending up before a judge who’s simply opposed to the death penalty, and is guaranteed to rule the new protocol unconstitutional.

      They don’t want to take that chance.

  8. I see the phrase ‘three botched executions’ but reading that two men died. By my count, that’s only one botched execution.

    Once we decide that a man is merely mass of cells who’s metabolism needs to be halted, the ‘how and why’ seems a bit like irrelevant details to me.

  9. “Sneed told investigators that Glossip pressured him into comitting the murder”

    Double dog dared him to do it?

  10. Planned Parenthood and similar entities have this process down to a science with well over 2200 death sentences per day in the US alone, imposed by a “doctor”, not a court. I suggest we adopt the same killing methods for criminals that they use for babies as they seem to be highly effective.

    1. Scissors to the spinal cord?

      Or trocar extraction of the gray matter?

      You’ll need midazolam for everyone present.

  11. This series of injections features midazolam (a sedative), vecuronium bromide (a paralytic), and potassium chloride, which induces cardiac arrest.

    Short of failure to properly place the IV, how is it possible to fuck that protocol up? That is an extremely effective — if not fool-proof — cocktail for a swift and all but painless death.

  12. “Oklahoma took a five-year hiatus from the death penalty after botching three executions in just two years.”

    The point of an execution is a dead prisoner. So, how many of the prisoner’s survived?

  13. Google pay 120$ consistently my last pay check was $9200 working 10 hours out of every week on the web. My more young kin buddy has been averaging 15k all through ongoing months and he works around 23 hours consistently. I can’t confide in how straightforward it was once I endeavored it out.This is my primary concern…..Read MoRe

  14. We put pets down humanely everyday. Laws have been passed that insure botched executions by those that are against the death penalty. If we can put pets down humanely, we can kill convicted killers humanely too, though personally I don’t care if they suffer a bit, because their victims suffered tremendously.

    1. Assuming the state was correct and fair in its arrest and prosecution procedure.

      1. Yeah. IMO, the humane death is for the wrongly convicted. Once we’ve decided an actual murderer is beyond redemption or reformation, I don’t much care if we vaporize him painlessly or feed him to the sarlacc.

  15. “Midazolam, which makes death row inmates appear to lose consciousness”

    Zuri, if you are just going to parrot somebody else’s press release then please stop putting your own name in the byline.

    Midazolam does not cause one to ‘appear’ to lose consciousness. It causes actual unconsciousness. Unfortunately it is also a very short acting drug – i.e. it wears off, usually in less than 20 minutes, more like five to ten minutes.

    1. Midazolam has a physiologic half life in humans of 1.5 -2.5 hours. It does not “wear off in 20 minutes”.

      It is a sedative, it is not proven to produce an unconscious state.

      Have you administered this drug legally?

  16. I am amazed at the amount of effort put in for the death penalty. There are less than 3000 people with death sentences. There are a world of problems with prison and the death penalty gets far too much attention. I say convert all the death sentences to life in prison and let start on some real problems. Why talk about recidivism of this small group when the real problem is recidivism the people with 5 o 15 year sentences. These are the people that will be back on the streets.

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