Okla. lawyers: Drugs not available for execution

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 17, 2014 at 3:52 pm •  Published: March 17, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma's prison system doesn't have all of the drugs necessary to carry out an execution set for this week, the state attorney general said Monday, and it hasn't met the conditions under law that would allow a switch to electrocution or firing squad.

The state says it is looking for any way to proceed with Thursday's execution, even if it requires a last-minute procedure change that could trigger appeals by Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner. Lockett is to die this Thursday and Charles Warner's execution date is March 27.

"At this point, it's premature to discuss the next steps in the process. The attorney general's office is exhausting all available options to ensure the punishment for this heinous crime is carried out," said Aaron Cooper, a spokesman for the attorney general's office.

Lockett and Warner already have a lawsuit pending against the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, saying it is illegal for it to withhold information about the drugs to be used in their executions and unfair that they cannot challenge Oklahoma's execution procedures in court.

The men have asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to grant them a stay of execution, while an Oklahoma County District Court judge has scheduled a Thursday hearing on Lockett and Warner's claim that state secrecy about the drugs threatens a constitutional guarantee against cruel or unusual punishment.

The state is still seeking suitable execution drugs, pending those hearings, Assistant Attorney General Seth Branham said.

"This has been nothing short of a Herculean effort, undertaken with the sole objective of carrying out ODOC's duty under Oklahoma law to conduct Appellants' executions," Branham wrote in a brief filed Monday in the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. "Sadly, this effort has (so far) been unsuccessful."

The attorney general's office said in the brief that a deal to obtain pentobarbital, a sedative, and vecuronium bromide, a muscle relaxer, from a pharmacy had fallen through. It did not identify the pharmacy.

A third drug used, potassium chloride, stops the heart. The state's brief did not mention that it was in short supply.

"It's stunning news to us that the state does not have the means to carry out a legal execution right now, and it gives us deep cause for concern that they are coupling that revelation with an insistence on shrouding the process in secrecy," said federal public defender Madeline Cohen, who previously defended Lockett and Warner.