Oklahoma has no plans to review its lethal injection protocol after two inmates executed this month made complaints as the drugs began to flow through their bodies.
Michael Lee Wilson, who was executed Jan. 9, said he felt his “whole body burning” within 20 seconds of receiving the injection. Kenneth Eugene Hogan, who was executed Thursday, complained of a metallic taste in his mouth seconds after his injection.
At a September execution, inmate Anthony Rozelle Banks took several deep breaths as the lethal drugs were injected into his body, then appeared to grimace briefly before he stopped breathing and his body went limp.
The complaints made by Wilson and Hogan have some civil liberties groups decrying the drugs used in Oklahoma's lethal injections — particularly the state's use of pentobarbital, a sedative commonly used to euthanize animals that is supposed to render a condemned inmate unconscious. The pentobarbital is followed by vecuronium bromide, which stops the inmate's breathing, then potassium chloride to stop the heart.
Used since 2010
Oklahoma has used this three-drug protocol since 2010, when convicted inmate John David Duty was believed to be the first person in the U.S. whose execution included the use of pentobarbital. Before it made the switch in sedatives, Oklahoma and several other states had relied on the barbiturate sodium thiopental to put an inmate to sleep. Shortages of that drug caused states to look for alternatives.
Including Duty, 17 inmates have been executed in Oklahoma since then with lethal injections that contained pentobarbital — most with no physical signs of discomfort or complaints as the drugs were injected.
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections said it will not initiate a review of the state's execution protocol after the Wilson and Hogan executions. And a spokeswoman for Attorney General Scott Pruitt said Oklahoma's execution method is “in compliance with the law.”
“Our protocol was appropriate, and we have no plans to change it,” said Department of Corrections spokesman Jerry Massie. He said the comments made by the inmates “are somewhat normal reactions,” and noted that it didn't appear that Wilson or Hogan were in any kind of distress after they made the comments after receiving the drugs.
Ohio incident cited
Massie said because of a recent execution in Ohio — it took an inmate 26 minutes to die after he snorted and gasped — more people have become sensitive to the issue, including inmates and their defense attorneys.
Unlike some states dealing with shortages of the drugs used for executions or upcoming expiration dates, Oklahoma is not facing similar problems, Massie said.
Oklahoma's execution methods have been lambasted by groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, which called on the corrections department to initiate a review of how it puts inmates to death in light of the complaints made by Wilson and Hogan.