MCALESTER — Death row inmate Michael Hooper has filed a lawsuit against the state Corrections Department, claiming the agency's limited supply of pentobarbital — one of three drugs used in Oklahoma executions — could lead to a painful death.
Hooper, convicted of killing a mother and her two children in 1993, is seeking a single-drug method, a practice that is growing in popularity as certain drugs used to execute condemned inmates are becoming nearly impossible to get.
He is scheduled to die Aug. 14.
A lawsuit filed by the inmate's attorney is seeking to halt Hooper's execution because the Corrections Department has only one dose of pentobarbital left, leaving it no backup supply of the drug.
The suit claims that Oklahoma's method of execution, which is done in three stages, “presents a substantial risk of serious harm to condemned inmates.”
“In fact, prisoners executed under protocols similar to Oklahoma's have suffered immense pain and grievous suffering as a result of maladministration of three-drug protocols,” Hooper's attorney wrote. “Because of the use of paralytic drugs ... there is a substantial risk that additional, unknown prisoners have experienced excruciating pain and suffering during their executions but were unable to manifest or communicate their distress because they were immobilized.”
The lawsuit draws attention to past executions in Oklahoma to illustrate problems with the state's protocol.
Court documents refer to the May 1997 execution of Scott Carpenter, who reportedly “turned a deep shade of blue ... let out a guttural moan, gasped for breath and convulsed violently, stretching the belt that strapped his body to the table as his body arched upward.”
Carpenter died 12 minutes after the execution began.
Another inmate, Robyn Parks, was executed in March 1992.
Witnesses described his execution as “overwhelming, stunning, disturbing” after Parks, who took 11 minutes to die, convulsed and “spewed out all the air in his lungs, spraying a cloud of spit,” according to the lawsuit.
Hooper's attorney also states that any complications during the injection of pentobarbital, which is the first of three substances injected during an execution, could fail to render Hooper unconscious and possibly leave him “mildly impaired to vegetative, depending on how long his body is deprived of oxygen.”
“In addition, such a failure of the drug, with no recourse to a backup drug, could render Hooper incompetent to be executed,” the inmate's attorney wrote.
The lawsuit references a judge's decision in Kentucky, where prisoners were suing under similar circumstances. The judge in that case ordered the state to consider allowing the use of one drug to execute condemned prisoners, which has been done in other states.
Kentucky officials announced in late May that a change in its execution procedures would be announced July 24, although it's not clear what changes will be made.
If Michael Hooper is executed, he will be the 100th inmate put to death by lethal injection in Oklahoma — and the fourth this year. Overall, the state has executed 182 prisoners, all but one by electric chair and lethal injection. In June 1936, Arthur Gooch was executed by hanging after spending less than a year on death row.