OSU professor: Oklahoma's secrecy over execution drugs is wrong

Published: March 5, 2014
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A recent lawsuit filed by two Oklahoma death row inmates should remind opponents and proponents of the death penalty why open government is crucial to an informed public’s oversight of its policymakers.

The inmates, scheduled for March executions, sued the Department of Corrections because Oklahoma law keeps secret — even from the prisoners and the courts — the supplier of the lethal injection drugs used in its executions. The statute even exempts the purchase of the drugs from the state’s Central Purchasing Act. Such secrecy in government typically breeds corruption, incompetency and inefficiency.

In this case, the prisoners argue that the secrecy prevents them from asserting their constitutional rights against cruel and unusual punishment. Their attorneys contend that the source of the lethal injection drugs raises the “substantial risk” that the inmates will experience severe pain. The lawsuit contends the drug to be used for the pain-relief phase of the execution was likely obtained from a compounding pharmacy. Such drugs aren’t FDA-approved. Nor are they stringently regulated.

The inmates aren’t likely to garner much sympathy from fellow Oklahomans. One was convicted of first-degree murder, rape and other horrific crimes. The other was convicted of raping and killing an 11-month-old. It’s easy to imagine the pain, horror and suffering of the victims and to want nothing less for their killers. But we’re better than that!

The state and federal constitutions protect us all — not just these men — from barbaric punishment. “Believing that inhumane punishments had no place in a nation founded upon the principle of liberty, the Founders enacted the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment,” one civil liberties organization notes.



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