Short of the chemicals it normally uses to execute people, Oklahoma wants to use new lethal drug combinations, including one that took 25 minutes to kill a man in Ohio, according to a legal brief filed Monday.
The brief was filed by attorneys for two men on Oklahoma’s death row who are suing the state in an attempt to know the source of the state’s lethal drugs. It contains documents from the state Corrections Department, including an updated execution procedure and a March 21-dated email from the agency’s general counsel advising the attorneys of the changes.
The change to protocol comes amid an ongoing search by the agency to find two of the three drugs in the state’s three-drug execution mixture — pentobarbital, a barbiturate used to render the condemned person unconscious, and vecuronium bromide, a drug that relaxes the muscles.
Clayton Lockett, 38, who killed a 19-year-old woman, and Charles Warner, 46, who raped and killed an 11-month-old child, asked the court to stay their executions so their case could be heard. In a March 17 objection to that request, Assistant Attorney General Seth Branham revealed the state Corrections Department has been having trouble obtaining the two drugs.
The updated procedure allows for the use of a single dose of pentobarbital, a new three drug cocktail using midazolam and hydromorphone, or a third new option that allows the state to replace another scarce drug, vecuronium bromide, with a comparable drug.
In January, the state of Ohio used a mixture of midazolam and hydromorphone, a never before used combination, in the execution of Dennis McGuire. It took McGuire 25 minutes to die in what defense attorney Allen Bohnert called a “failed, agonizing experiment.”
State Corrections Department spokesman Jerry Massie declined to confirm the change to procedure, again stating the agency would not comment on ongoing litigation. Massie deferred questions Monday to the Oklahoma attorney general’s office.
Any changes to execution procedure are initiated and overseen by the state Correction Department, and the attorney general’s office is unable to comment on it or confirm changes to it, said Diane Clay, spokeswoman for the attorney general.
States are having a harder time finding lethal injection drugs as manufacturers and compounding pharmacies have come under public scrutiny and have become increasingly reluctant to provide them for executions.