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Oklahoma judge finds aspect of state execution law unconstitutional

An Oklahoma County District judge ruled Wednesday a state law allowing the Department of Corrections to keep its source of lethal injection drugs secret is unconstitutional.
by Graham Lee Brewer Modified: March 26, 2014 at 9:36 pm •  Published: March 26, 2014

A judge ruled Wednesday the state must reveal where it gets its lethal injection drugs.

Two inmates scheduled for executions this month — Clayton Derrell Lockett, 38, and Charles Frederick Warner, 46 — sued the state to determine the source of the drugs.

Not allowing Lockett and Warner to know the source and quality of the drugs denied them the ability to decide whether or not their rights might be violated, Oklahoma County District Judge Patricia Parrish said.

It’s not clear whether the ruling could lead to delays for future executions.

Both men have argued their constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment would be violated if the drugs were unsafe, causing them pain during execution.

Attorneys representing the two men pointed to the January execution of Micheal Lee Wilson, who said “I can feel my whole body burning” just before he died.

The state amended protocol last week to include the use of additional lethal drugs, including a mixture that took about 25 minutes to kill an Ohio man in January.

“I do not think this is even a close call,” Parrish said. She said state law is so broad it bars the sharing of the source of the drugs in civil or criminal proceedings, keeping even her from asking for the source while considering her ruling.

“What good is their access to the courts if you can’t tell me the information,” Parrish said.

Assistant Attorney General John Hadden argued much of the concern over the drugs is speculation. He said the sources need to be kept secret to protect their safety. Hadden pointed to threats of violence made to compounding pharmacies by anti-death penalty activists.

“We’re talking about people who are willing to send in bomb threats to compounding pharmacies,” Hadden said.

Moments after the ruling, lawyers for the two inmates acknowledged an appeal to the state Supreme Court by the state was likely but said they were happy with Parrish’s decision.

“This case was all about transparency, having access to information,” said Susanna Gattoni, one of their attorneys. “And, so we’re very, very pleased that the district court ruled that people do have the right to know what the government’s doing. That’s essentially what she said today. They have to give us the information, and now they will.”

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by Graham Lee Brewer
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Graham Lee Brewer began his career as a journalist covering Oklahoma's vibrant music scene in 2006. After working as a public radio reporter for KGOU and then Oklahoma Watch he went on to cover the Oklahoma Senate for eCapitol before joining the...
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